Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

New volunteers needed for 100-year study into Emirati health

New York University Abu Dhabi is conducting a comprehensive study of the nation's most pressing health issues

Dr Abdishakur Abdulle. Victor Besa / The National
Dr Abdishakur Abdulle. Victor Besa / The National

A 100-year study aimed at scrutinising the health of Emiratis is in need of thousands of new volunteers.

The research - spearheaded by New York University Abu Dhabi - was launched in 2015 and aims to uncover solutions to some of the most prevalent conditions affecting UAE nationals.

Methods of tackling rising rates of diabetes, obesity and hypertension will form a key part of the Healthy Future Study.

But researchers say a much higher number of participants is required to ensure a clear picture of the issues facing Emiratis is uncovered.

So far, only 7,000 people have agreed to take part, with those leading the study hoping to grow that figure to 20,000.

“When you want to understand the causes of any disease, you need a long-term study," said Dr Abdishakur Abdulle, associate director of public health research at NYU Abu Dhabi. "This study could go on for another 100 years.

“The purpose is to make sure that our policies are evidence based. It is the first time a collaboration of this level is happening anywhere that I know of.

"The fact that we can bring the entire society and the healthcare sector together is priceless.”

The project is modelled on the Framingham Heart Study which is a long-term, ongoing cardiovascular study of residents of the city of Framingham, Massachusetts, in the US. It began in 1948 with 5,209 adults and is now on its third generation of participants.

“The beauty of the Framingham study is that approximately 60 per cent of what we know about cardiovascular diseases is the result of the study and that is what we want," said Dr Abdulle. "We want our policies to be based on research and facts not hypothesis."

He said most existing health studies were based on Caucasian groups, while the UAE Healthy Future Study will focus on Emiratis only.

The results of a five-year National Health Survey announced by the Ministry of Health and Prevention earlier this year, which polled 9,400 Emiratis and residents, found 37 per cent of those polled were obese, almost 29 per cent suffered from high blood pressure and one in 10 adults had diabetes.

“There have never been any studies identifying the causes [of these health problems]," said Dr Abdulle.

"It is not lifestyle alone. To have a hypothesis is one thing and to understand the actual risk factor is another.

“The results of the study will help us develop life-saving policies and will be cost-saving as well. We are working with almost every health provider and educational institution in the country from the military, to department of health to Zayed University.”

Almost 50 faculty members are working on the project, alongside 20 NYU Abu Dhabi staff.

The team have visited universities, hospitals, blood banks and local clinics in search of study participants.

Registration is also available online at uaehealthyfuture.ae.

The initial results of the research will be published as soon as 10,000 volunteers are recruited.

“It may come out in a year's time and within another two, three years we will have an avalanche of publications," said Dr Abdulle.

"This data is creating another opportunity as a national depository of health data that will not only help health professional but scientists and students as well. The results will be exponential for years to come."

Updated: July 27, 2019 08:05 PM

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