Menopause care in the UAE is significantly improving, say local experts

New dedicated clinics are opening and awareness is higher than ever

Awareness and availability of hormone replacement therapy for menopause has increased in the UAE. Getty Images
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The absence of proper menopause care is a global issue, but in many ways the UAE is now one of the forerunners, local experts say.

Sophie Smith, founder and chief executive of Nabta Health, a women’s healthcare clinic in Dubai, said this is “in terms of creating viable ways to make menopause care accessible to women of diverse backgrounds”.

In recent years, the UAE has made several strides in this area, helping women to better navigate what can be a difficult time in their lives.

Open conversations about menopause are critical in order to prevent women struggling in silence
Sophie Smith, founder and chief executive of Nabta Health

Abu Dhabi opened its first menopause clinic in Al Zafaranah Diagnostic Screening Centre in 2022 and, since then, several more providers across the Emirates have launched similar initiatives.

This includes the capital’s tech-focused healthcare company M42, which earlier this month announced the launch of Laha Wellness Hub, a holistic clinic dedicated to women aged 35 and above offering support for a wide range of women's issues, including perimenopause and menopause management.

“There is a growing movement in government and the private sector to destigmatise menopause, which translates in Arabic as ‘the age of despair’,” Ms Smith told The National.

“Women experiencing emotional and mental shifts during perimenopause and menopause can feel unheard by a system that doesn’t acknowledge these crucial aspects. Open conversations about menopause are critical in order to prevent women struggling in silence.”

'Education is still needed'

There are dozens of symptoms associated with menopause, which is described by Mayo Clinic as the time that marks the end of your menstrual cycles. It generally occurs between 45 and 55 years for women worldwide.

Some of the most common symptoms include hot flushes, mood changes, sleep issues, vaginal dryness and weight gain. These can affect quality of life, but also the ability to function day to day, even affecting performance at work.

Menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace, according to the Faculty of Occupational Medicine in the UK, with about 75 per cent experiencing symptoms and 25 per cent experiencing serious symptoms.

Support for these women tends to be found wanting – but this is not the trend in the UAE.

Dr Aagje Bais, a consultant gynecologist at Mediclinic Arabian Ranches, said she had seen a huge improvement in the treatment possibilities doctors have access to in the 15 year she has been working here.

Over the past few years alone, the options for hormone-replacement therapy (HRT), for example, have significantly improved.

Demographics have also shifted, as the UAE’s attractiveness as a destination to live and changing visa laws have meant Dr Bais sees more women of menopausal age than ever before.

About 85 per cent of Dr Bais's patients are menopausal and she often prescribes hormone replacement therapy to help manage symptoms. But education on this topic is still needed.

“Education not just for patients but also doctors, about the possibilities of HRT,” she said.

“A lot of patients still refuse, saying their other doctor says not to use it because ‘you’re going to die or you’re going to get breast cancer’.

“They scare people with knowledge that it is not up to date. And that is a shame, because then people will be afraid of seeking help for symptoms we can do something for.”

HRT, lifestyle changes and confidantes

The biggest achievement in menopause care in the UAE recently has been the availability of more bio-identical HRT.

Affordability is particularly important for Dr Bais's patients as many insurance plans do not cover tests and treatments relating to hormones, perimenopause and menopause, “let alone HRT”.

Another challenge is stock, as local pharmacies often run out of the medication, Dr Bais said.

HRT is not the only treatment, however. She usually begins with lifestyle changes, such as increasing exercise and reducing smoking and the consumption of alcohol.

If symptoms are related to mood and emotions, then a better treatment might be counselling, or an anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication.

Simply talking about what you are going through can greatly help, which is why local support networks such as Hotflash Inc and the Middle East Menopause Organisation are also vital.

Cassie Destino, 48, founder of IVF Support UAE, is currently training to be a menopause doula, a role she describes as being like a professional confidante who women can seek for comfort and guidance.

“I'm like your friend without being your friend,” she said. “So, you can talk to me about all the ins and outs, and I know exactly what you're talking about and exactly what it feels like, but I'm not your mate.

“You can talk about it and vent about it, but also keep it private from the rest of your life.”

Ms Destino, who already provides the same service for women struggling with fertility issues, said she still comes across many misconceptions of menopause among women in her community, including which symptoms are relevant and what to do about them.

“Most people are actually fine going through menopause,” she said. “But there’s a long timeline. Some people go through it in a year while other people, it takes 12 years, and you might not even know it.

“I just wish they all knew it's a natural human condition.”

Dr Bais agreed, noting: “It’s a part of the process we have to go through.

“And once you realise you’re not crazy or funny or weird, then you can accept it. And once you accept it, you can deal with things in your own way.”

Updated: March 23, 2024, 3:00 AM