x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Medical screening proves its worth

Thousands of cases of infectious illnesses were reported to medical authorities last year, showing the benefits of the government monitoring system.

DUBAI // Thousands of cases of infectious illnesses were reported to medical authorities last year, showing the benefits of the government monitoring system in preventing the spread of disease. Tuberculosis, cholera, meningitis, malaria, rabies, leprosy and Hepatitis A, B and C were among the maladies reported to the Department of Health and Medical Services in Dubai, which keeps comprehensive records of all reported cases of infectious diseases. Many are likely to have been detected in patients who have travelled to the UAE with existing conditions.

The number of cases recorded last year in public and private facilities was 11,052. This included 522 pulmonary TB cases, six of leprosy, 6,720 of chickenpox, four rabies and 203 malaria. The figures are broken down by age, sex, and nationality. Figures for previous years were not available. Doctors said it was crucial that hospitals report infectious diseases so authorities could look for any trends and monitor their preventive work. Dr Mansour al Zarouni, head of pathology and laboratory medicine and chairman of the Infection Control Committee at Al Qassimi Hospital in Sharjah, said transparency was an integral part of any health system.

"People in health need to be honest and transparent for everyone's sake," he said. "If they are not, how will authorities know what is happening and where the problem areas are?" Dr al Zarouni, who has previously worked with the Ministry of Health (MoH) on infection control, said each time a private hospital reports a case of TB, the facility is checked by the authorities to make sure it is free of traces of the disease.

"This may put some hospitals off reporting any cases," he said. "But those who do report the cases are doing the best thing." All expatriates coming into the UAE are screened for Aids, tuberculosis, syphilis, hepatitis B and leprosy. A positive result could result in deportation. In January a federal law stipulated that only government health centres could issue the visa certificates. There were 203 cases of malaria last year: one Emirati and 202 non-nationals. In January 2007 the World Health Organisation had declared the UAE malaria-free. The certification was awarded after the MoH said there had not been a case of locally transmitted malaria for three years.

Dr Asif Sattar, a pulmonologist at The City Hospital in Dubai, said reporting figures in such a comprehensive way was crucial for a country to understand the health of its population. "For somewhere like the UAE," he said, "where there is a huge population coming in from all over the world, reporting cases of infectious diseases is crucial in terms of looking at the demographics and seeing the incidence of certain things such as TB."

Dr Sattar said this work would help authorities identify target groups who are especially susceptible to certain illnesses, and help them plan preventive work better. munderwood@thenational.ae