x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

UAE goal to beat killer diseases as Sheikh Mohammed launches research charity

The Al Jalila Foundation, named after Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid's daughter, will research diseases such as diabetes and offer scholarships to students from all over the world.

Emirati cardiologist Prof Najib Al Khaja, an 'ambassador of hope' for the Al Jalila Foundation, speaks at the launch. Razan Alzayani / The National
Emirati cardiologist Prof Najib Al Khaja, an 'ambassador of hope' for the Al Jalila Foundation, speaks at the launch. Razan Alzayani / The National
DUBAI // A newly-established medical charity aims to raise Dh100 million this year for research into the Arabian Gulf's most prevalent medical conditions.
Al Jalila Foundation will fund medical scholarships for promising students, and drive research into disorders such as thalassaemia and diabetes.
"Our main focus is medical research," said Dr Abdulkareem Sultan Al Olama, the foundation's chief executive.
"In the UAE we have qualified people and we will create opportunities for them to conduct research. Our earliest concern will be the diseases that affect the UAE and the region."
The foundation was established in November last year by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai. It is named after his daughter.
Sheikh Mohmamed inaugurated the foundation yesterday, and specific spending programmes will be announced later.
The foundation will rely on donations from private individuals and members of the public. Dr Al Olama is confident the Dh100m target is achievable.
"We are not worried, the UAE is a very generous society," he said.
"But it's a charitable foundation, so you'll see our boxes in petrol stations or malls. We will welcome any dirham from anybody."
The programme will focus on a particular disorder every two years, with an emphasis on goals. "People who donate want to see an impact," said Dr Al Olama.
It has not yet been decided which specific disorders will be targeted initially. "Very soon we will know," said Dr Al Olama. "We will announce the programme so scientists and researchers can apply for grants and students can apply for scholarships."
Dr Al Olama did not rule out diabetes as an area for research. "Lots of people are doing research into diabetes, but it is on our radar screen."
The respected Emirati cardiologist Prof Najib Al Khaja is an "ambassador of hope" for the foundation.
He said it was important that medical research take into account the environment of the Emirates in order to have applications here.
"A lot of scientific research that we see today comes from countries that have different environmental conditions," he said. "Not all that is good for them is good for us in the field of medicine.
"There's an immense need to address the reasons for many diseases such as heart problems, diabetes and cancers, in addition to other genetic diseases, which have higher occurrences [here] than the world average.
"Scientific research is the key to learn about the reasons for that. This will give the opportunity to new creative people to have an impact in this country."
Dr Al Olama said that despite the wide range of international medicinal research there was still scope for Al Jalila to make a difference.
"We are here to build on what others have established," he said. "We will complement existing research organisations."
Another key branch of the foundation is scholarships that will be made available to promising students who were interested in pursuing a career in medicine.
Funding would not be restricted to UAE nationals, said Dr Al Olam.
"We would definitely like to see more UAE nationals in medicine and research, but Al Jalila Foundation is a global foundation.
"We will target top students at high schools, if they're interested, and maybe we'll give a scholarship to them. We will start with locals, but it would also include other Arabs or expats.
"We will only take bright people, because we want the best for the UAE."
mcroucher@thenational.ae