x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Ministry to survey nation's health

The Ministry of Health will launch an unprecedented survey to assess the physical and psychological state of the nation.

Abu Dhabi // The Ministry of Health will launch an unprecedented survey to assess the physical and psychological state of the nation, one that should begin to address international criticism that the UAE does not provide enough comprehensive information about the health of its residents. The survey, part of a larger plan to overhaul and streamline how health services are structured, is expected to provide the largest overview the country has seen. The information it gathers will be used to formulate healthcare policies for years to come.

Though the ministry will administer the study, to be conducted at a cost of Dh4 million (US$1.1m), it will also be monitored by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The UAE has previously been criticised by such organisations as the WHO and UN for not providing current, accurate information on the health of its population when various world surveys have called for it. The first stage of the project, which is to begin in December and be completed within four months, will involve 5,000 people. It is a big step for the UAE that could prove invaluable if it is carried out efficiently and accurately, said Dr Huda al Suwaidi, the UAE's world health survey project manager.

"It means we will be able to know the true provenance of things such as diabetes, cancer and obesity," she said. "It will be a huge survey." As part of the project, the ministry will set up a database as part of the Research & Statistics Centre. First, questionnaires will be sent out to households under the supervision of the Central Statistics Department. Then 100 teams, including nurses, interviewers and assistants, will visit the participants to assess them in person, taking such readings as blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

"In addition to having this information extracted it will help us in the future to build our strategic plan to design the way in which we can handle the health of the people of the UAE," Dr Suwaidi said. "A lot of the strategic plans and action plans done before in the country were based on theoretical things, saying what is happening next door in other countries. Now whatever plan we build, it will be built on very strong data and evidence."

Dr Ali bin Shakar, director general of the ministry, said the teams would also help families complete the questionnaires correctly so there are no gaps in the data. "It is important to have documented data on the medical, psychological, social and economic situation of the population to be able to make the right decisions, draw strategies and set policies based on facts and scientific evidence," he said.

The survey, which is a joint project with the WHO and GCC executive council, will include information collected from 1,000 labourers throughout all seven emirates, Dr Shakar said. In the Country Co-operation Strategy for World Health Organisation and the United Arab Emirates 2004-2009 report, the WHO identifies - under the heading Strengthening the Institutional Capabilities of the Ministry of Health - a need for such national studies.

The report said the ministry's capacity for planning and care could be improved if it agreed to "undertake national studies using standard analytical tools to support policy-making and priority-setting: national burden of disease assessment; institutionalisation and ownership of national health accounts analysis; costing and cost-effective analysis studies, including the identification and costing of essential intervention".

It also said such a survey would be a benefit by "supporting the national health information system and promoting population-based surveys to improve informed decision making". Dr Suwaidi said the WHO would monitor the survey's progress at every step to ensure that it was following international standards of best practice. She said great efforts were being made to train statisticians to work at the Research & Statistics Centre.

"At each and every step they will check that we are doing everything to a high standard," she said. "This is a very important thing for the UAE and will be very helpful when it is completed." @Email:munderwood@thenational.ae