x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

New tactics in campaign to target chronic illnesses

Dubai to adopt innovative new tactics to fight chronic illnesses such as childhood obesity, diabetes and cancer.

DUBAI // The emirate will adopt innovative new tactics to fight chronic illnesses such as childhood obesity, diabetes and cancer, the man appointed to oversee health plans and strategies said yesterday. Dr Essa Kazim, the Dubai Health Authority's chief executive of health policy and strategy, said in an interview that the authority would start using direct intervention to improve the state of public health, and that the plans would affect almost everyone in the emirate in one way or another.

The aim, he said, was to prevent more of the life-threatening diseases that have taken hold in the UAE by, for instance, working in school gyms and canteens, instead of just in hospitals and clinics. The DHA will also examine certain laws, and make recommendations on how they could be improved. He said the authority would not release full details of the plan until it was clear exactly when and how it would be rolled out.

However, hinting at the types of programmes that may be on offer, he said the DHA would try to make sure more children take part in physical education and eat nutritious food at schools. The DHA also wants fewer young people to start smoking, and generally get more adults to change their lifestyles, which he said was "one of the bigger challenges" the authority faces. The UAE has one of the world's highest rates of diabetes, and widespread childhood obesity, a leading cause of the condition, is a major concern. According to the United Nations, childhood obesity affects one in eight children in the UAE.

"Once [the plan] is finalised we will heavily involve the Knowledge and Human Development Authority for the introduction of this into schools," he said, referring to the body that regulates the emirate's schools. "It would involve a change of lifestyle and these are difficult things for the public to accept; this would be one of the bigger challenges we face." He said it was crucial that any measures introduced focused on specific demographics.

"We will bring out strategies that target different age groups and different sections of the public, because there have been younger and younger people smoking. We have to tackle them all differently." The DHA also hopes to introduce a cancer registry that combines data from public and private institutions. This is necessary, Dr Kazim said, to address what he said was the growing incidences of the disease.

"We can't say exactly what the burden of cancer is in numerical terms, because we have two registries in the UAE; one in Abu Dhabi and the other in Dubai," he said. "The private sector does not input data, so we have incomplete statistics. If we want to know the true burden, we must have a unified registry." Under Dr Kazim's wide remit, the policy and strategy department also plans to examine certain health laws to see if they could be improved, including the law that requires automatic deportation of expatriates with tuberculosis.

"We can look at the law to suggest what can be done and we would put forward suggestions as to how it could be implemented," he said. "It is an issue which affects all the emirates." Dr Kazim's department will also create new non-clinical and clinical guidelines for hospitals, clinics and individual practitioners that will standardise diagnosis, treatment, record-keeping and follow-up care. Raising the quality of healthcare is the ultimate aim, and not one which can be achieved quickly, Dr Kazim said.

"There are a number of challenges," he said. "What we don't want to do is to break something that already exists and reinvent the whole thing. There is going to be, in general, better results if we use existing systems and improve on them rather than starting again." @Email:munderwood@thenational.ae