Emiratis told to check results of health tests

Almost every adult national in Abu Dhabi has been screened for heart-disease risk factors but only a third have looked at the results.

ABU DHABI // Emiratis in Abu Dhabi were urged yesterday to check the results of their mandatory health tests, which for thousands could be life-saving. Almost every adult UAE national in the emirate has been screened for risk factors linked to cardiovascular disease, which is the biggest cause of death, but only a third have looked at the results.

The Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD) is trying to change that with a Ramadan campaign to encourage Emiratis to check the results and take the action recommended by doctors to safeguard their health. Dr Oliver Harrison, director of public health and policy at HAAD, said Abu Dhabi faced a challenge in tackling its burden of chronic disease. "Meeting this challenge will save thousands of Emirati lives over the next decade," he said.

Diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are all associated with heart disease, which caused a quarter of all deaths last year, according to HAAD. The aim of the Weqaya screening programme is to help people to live longer and healthier lives, said Dr Jamal al Mutawa, section head in public health at HAAD, and this should be enough to encourage them to play an active role. "It is the biggest programme initiated by the public health department at HAAD but it will be of benefit only if the people actively participate in it," he said. "This is their chance to change their lives." The screening, which involved an examination by a physician, is a requirement for the Thiqa health insurance scheme, with gives nationals free access to health care. Since its launch in 2008 it has screened almost 200,000 nationals aged between 18 and 75, accounting for 97 per cent of the adult national population of Abu Dhabi.

Those in need of follow-up care will be advised to contact specialists for further help. HAAD previously said it would telephone people until they acted on the advice. The screening is required every three years but Thiqa holders must prove they have followed any advice - such as making and attending follow-up appointments - when they renew their card annually. Annual mammograms are also mandatory for women aged between 40 and 69.

To push the programme forward the authority is using Ramadan to encourage people to access and use their results to "better themselves", Dr al Mutawa explained. "Ramadan is a time for people to be the best they can be," he said. "The Quran states that your body is a gift from God so people should take care of it in every way. If you are eating lots of fatty foods and not exercising you are not taking care of your body." As part of the drive, the health authority has been running a number of initiatives to remind the local population to check their results. Weqaya staff have been stationed in malls helping people to log on to their online accounts, and reminder adverts have been placed in local Arabic media. The Weqaya website went live on June 27 and some of the report cards have already been sent out by courier. "The more information people have the better they can manage their health," said Dr al Mutawa. "This is why we are urging people to check their results. This is for the benefit of the population. All people need to do is log on to the website." The Weqaya programme is the only one of its kind, according to HAAD. Preliminary figures revealed almost two out of three Emiratis are overweight or obese, and one in five have diabetes, according to Dr Cother Hajat, section head in public health programmes at HAAD. She said the biggest problem was that these and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease often show no symptoms, and sufferers may not realise until it is too late. Visit www.weqaya.ae to receive the screening results. munderwood@thenational.ae