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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Space clinic being developed to treat Emirati astronauts

Doctors say that advanced technology will one day allow specialists to treat patients on another planet

Idea for Emirates Space Hospital project on display at Arab Health Congress in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
Idea for Emirates Space Hospital project on display at Arab Health Congress in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

Telemedicine programmes currently helping doctors remotely treat patients from hundreds of miles away could one day be so advanced they are able to treat Emirati astronauts in space.

Those are the grand ambitions of the Ministry of Health and Prevention that is working with the UAE Space Agency to develop a space clinic to treat astronauts, should they fall sick on a mission to Mars.

The concept may seem like science fiction, or the latest chapter from a Hollywood film, but doctors insist advanced technology will one day allow specialists to treat patients on another planet.

“We are following the government direction to think broadly about how healthcare can be delivered in the future, and that will involve space,” said Dr Kalthoom Al Blooshi, director of hospitals department at the Ministry of Health and Prevention.

“This is a topic of discussion now with the Ministry of Health and Prevention. Nano technology is a concept of remotely managing the health of people.

“Research is ongoing to understand how this may work in the future.

“We are already using remote telemedicine services between hospitals, and even between countries so the next logical step in this field is to expand it to work in space.

“This will one day be developed so that it can work between Mars and Earth – but we know this will take a very long time to perfect.”

An idea to establish the space clinic was inspired by the inception of the UAE Space Agency and the UAE Mars Mission – who will be sending an unmanned probe lead by an Emirati team to explore Mars by 2021.

It will be the first such operation carried out by an Arab and Muslim country. The UAE’s centennial plan for 2117 involves building a human settlement in Mars as part of a scientific operation.

Telemedicine is a rapidly evolving segment of healthcare, offering patients more flexibility as to how and when they are treated.

Dubai Health Authority announced an expansion of its diabetic retinopathy programme, allowing patients to have routine check-ups without visiting a specialist ophthalmologist in person.

All diabetic clinics across DHA primary healthcare centres have installed digital retinal cameras.

It is allowing images to be sent to direct to Dubai Hospital via telemedicine, so diabetics no longer have to go to an ophthalmologist for their annual eye check-ups.

“Unfortunately, many people living with diabetes don’t take the time out for eye screenings and we believe that telemedicine will help combat these issues,” said Dr Manal Taryam, chief executive of the Primary Healthcare Sector at the DHA.

“Telemedicine has made the lives of patients easier, and it has also helped doctors with early screening. We believe this technology will go a long way in improving patient outcomes.”

Headache clinics across Al Barsha and Nad Al Hamar primary healthcare centres are also using telemedicine and family physicians to co-ordinate with neurologists from Rashid Hospital.

It is a programme that will one day be developed to accommodate the UAE space programme, doctors hope.

A ‘space island’ has been displayed at the 43rd Arab Health conference in Dubai as a concept of how to manage health in space, ahead of any future trip to Mars.

“This will hopefully inspire young people to enter these specialist fields of work that will be beyond the parameters of Earth, maybe in a hundred years or so,” said Dr Al Blooshi,

“People will study the impact of different environments on health.

“This will not be easy and many of these hypothesis around how space will affect our health will go through many stages of trial and error, with many years of programming and experiments.

“This is a programme that is likely to run for a hundred years, to study the environment of space, and will be done alongside other international organisations, such as NASA.

“Going to Mars will involve a lot of time, research and ambition. It is important we are thinking beyond Earth.

“It is not a question of why go to Mars, but why not?”

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