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Awareness is the key

posted on 02/12/2006: 1550 views

The UAE health policies are geared towards educating the masses and removing the stigma attached to certain diseases.

Healthcare in the UAE has changed dramatically from the day it became an independent nation. From eight government hospitals in 1971, there are 44 public hospitals and 33 private hospitals today, offering a host of medical options to patients not only from the UAE, but from the entire region.

Nowhere is the change more evident than in the country's tackling of health issues such as HIV/Aids and breast cancer, which were deemed too sensitive to discuss just a few years ago. The country's policies have removed the stigma attached to these diseases.


As recent as a year ago, HIV/Aids was not a subject that the UAE dealt with openly. Health officials admit that they had depended heavily on satellite television and the Internet to educate the population on these diseases. Now there are aggressive policies in place to educate the masses and reduce the stigma attached to these diseases.

Dr. Abdul Ghaffar Al Hawi, Assistant Undersecretary of Curative Medicine at the Ministry of Health, says awareness is the only way to tackle health problems. "We have become open in terms of taboo subjects. We even teach children about Aids now," he says.

Among the many projects initiated by the health authorities this year was the collaboration between the Ministry of Health, UN Development Programme and the UAE Red Crescent, for an awareness poster campaign in April. The poster listed 10 points about HIV and Aids and was distributed free. Health authorities are now openly working to reintegrate HIV and Aids patients into society, appealing for people's support, understanding and acceptance.

A national committee is currently finalising data on the disease and Aids patients in the UAE, while the Dubai Department of Health and Medical Services (Dohms) has embarked on a confidential and voluntary testing programme.

"The focus is on protecting the public. If people know their HIV status, it will be easier for them to seek treatment and prevent transmission," says Dr Ahmad Al Haj, internal medicine specialist at Rashid Hospital and member of the committee.

Breast cancer

Breast cancer, one of the most commonly prevalent cancers among UAE women, came with its own set of problems and stigma. Embarrassment prevented many women from seeking life-saving information and treatment.

Dr Houriya Kazim, specialist breast surgeon, says breast cancer was such a sensitive topic that she could not put the word ‘breast' in her medical licence application form.

"Awareness is much better now. In 1998 I saw a lot of advanced cases but now I don't," she says.

Sawsan Ja'afar, President of Friends of Cancer Patients, says the shift in attitude in regards to the disease is wonderful.

"Cancer was a taboo disease that no one wanted to talk about. Now when we have campaigns, we have a lot of people coming in and wanting to learn," she says.

There are many health programmes now to educate women on the importance of early detection, teaching them how to perform a breast self-examination and offering free screening and mammograms during Breast Cancer Month.

The openness and awareness campaigns have resulted in higher survival rates for women, who in turn talk about their experiences. Shayesteh LaBelle, a breast cancer survivor, says sharing her tale was part of her healing process. (Gulf News)


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