Hundreds join first Dubai walkathon for arthritis since pandemic hit

Event offers a key network of support for those suffering from the disease, organisers say

Hundreds of Dubai residents took part in a walk on Saturday morning to raise awareness of the plight of those suffering from arthritis.

It was the first time in two years that the event took place, after previous walks were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Its absence has been sorely felt as UAE residents with arthritis were left without a crucial means of support, said Sanria Khan, organiser and one of the founding members of the Middle East Arthritis Foundation (MEAF).

“The walk offers a vital network for those with arthritis. It helps to create a community for those with arthritis to show they are not alone and their situation can be improved,” she said.

“It is also very helpful for families of people with arthritis as they can share information and contacts to help each other.”

Ms Khan, 55, from India, had rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed at an early age but has been able to manage her condition and now makes a living as a life coach.

“When you are first diagnosed, it can be a really lonely and scary feeling,” she said.

Sanria Khan, organiser of the 2022 arthritis walkathon. Photo: Sanria Khan

“That is why it is so important to know you are not alone and [that] there is help out there.”

Arthritis is a disease caused by the swelling and tenderness of one or more joints.

Even though there is no cure, experts claim early detection and treatment can significantly increase the quality of life of patients.

Among those taking part in the walk was Dubai resident Sheetal Nair, 43, an Indian resident whose son Arjun, 9, was found to have juvenile arthritis last year.

“One morning he just woke up and wasn’t able to walk and his right ankle was all swollen up,” she said.

Dubai resident Sheetal Nair's son, nine-year-old Arjun was accompanying her on Saturday's walk. Photo: Sheetal Nair

“I took him to a doctor and they treated it like it was a normal sprain but the pain continued for three weeks.

“We couldn’t diagnose it and after a few weeks, we were advised to see a rheumatologist.”

She said the condition was so rare in children that it took some time to find a rheumatologist specialising in arthritis in patients so young.

“We were just lucky we did manage to find someone who was able to help us before the pain spread to other parts of the body,” said Ms Nair.

“He was put on treatment, including steroids, and we were told it could take 18 months before he made a recovery. However, he is almost back to full health already within eight months.”

Ms Nair said she was taking part in the walk to show others that support is out there.

Globally, there are more than 350 million people suffering from some form of the condition, according to MEAF.

The Walk for Arthritis event in Dubai took place for four consecutive years before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, when it was then placed on hold for two years.

Polish swimming coach Karolina Soroko, 37, who had arthritis diagnosed when she was a child, said she was proudly taking her place among those participating in the 3.5-kilometre walk on Saturday.

“I couldn’t even stand up without support it was so bad,” Ms Soroko said.

Polish swimming coach Karolina Soroko took part in Saturday's walkathon. Photo: Karolina Soroko

“There was a time about 10 years ago when I even needed people to help me to get out of a car.”

She said having a healthy and active lifestyle is a key facet in overcoming the challenges presented by life with arthritis.

“I moved to Dubai about three years ago for the sunny weather, which is better for my health,” she said.

“When I tell people now that I have arthritis they don’t believe me. I used to work in real estate in London but left to become a swimming coach in Dubai and it is the best decision I ever made.”

Isra Shabandri, 34, has been living with arthritis since the age of seven. She underwent various treatments in her home country of Saudi Arabia but it was not until she changed her diet that she noticed her condition was improving.

“I realised I need to avoid certain foods. I don’t eat red meat at all and can’t eat potatoes,” said Ms Shabandri, who now works as a teacher in Dubai.

“I love French fries but the minute I eat anything made from potato, I feel pain in my body.”

Dr Humeira Badsha, a rheumatologist and co-founder of the MEAF, said Saturday’s walk was crucial for arthritis sufferers as it showed the importance of not giving up.

“After a certain stage in arthritis, people often lose the will to get up from bed, thus this walkathon aims to reach out to these patients and their families to build awareness on leading a normal life routine and restoring their motivation,” she said.

“We aim to build a community for patients to support and motivate each other in a positive way along with their loved ones, together, to beat arthritis.”

Updated: March 28, 2022, 10:10 AM