Survey of 5,000 homes gives picture of Dubai's health

More than 5,000 households studied; results will allow planners to intelligently prepare future health care in the emirate

DUBAI // The emirate will be able to map out health care for generations to come when a survey of thousands of households in Dubai is analysed, medical officials say. In the wide-ranging study of 5,000 homes undertaken by the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), residents of every demographic from blue-collar workers to highly paid expatriates and UAE nationals were asked questions on a range of health-related subjects including exercise, diet, access to health care and smoking.

Results of the research, the most thorough in recent years, are expected to be available in around six months and will play a major role in the planning of health care in the emirate. The project is part of the authority's major push this year to establish up-to-date statistics. Previously, the emirate had incomplete data, leaving planners without a full picture of what services were needed now and in the future.

Staff will concentrate on collecting data on cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and communicable diseases. Dr Eldaw Suliman, head of research and performance in the policy and strategy department at the DHA, is leading much of the research. "You can only know how to plan policies and strategies for the future if you know the situation you will be planning for," he said. "There is definitely a need for more information, specifically for policymakers and programme designers."

Dr Suliman has previously worked with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, the World Bank and the UN. He acknowledges that Dubai faces many of the same barriers as other countries when trying to collect data, particularly information gleaned directly from the public. "With the survey of 5,000 households there were a lot of questions asked and the questionnaires were created incorporating international methods," he said. "Some topics such as exercise, smoking and alcohol are, of course, sensitive subjects so we are aware that the problems may be under-reported.

"But this applies all over the world. The results will be very interesting to everyone." The Ministry of Health undertook a separate study last year which, it said, included 28,000 people. Questions were issued to people in or around certain pharmacies in the UAE but were not as comprehensive as those in the Dubai survey. The ministry's results confirmed previous estimates about the high rate of diabetes and obesity in the country's population. It revealed that 18 per cent were diabetic while 68 per cent were either obese or overweight.

Separate research into fertility trends in Dubai is also under way with 100 students helping to gather information. No further details of the work were available but the DHA said data collected since December last year was being used to plan future maternity and child health services. "It will also help to better understand the future population structure of Dubai," Dr Suliman said. "This is important not only for health care but also for many other sectors and thus for the development of the emirate."

Because Dubai is such a "fast-moving" city and the population changes often, information on diseases, lifestyle and access to health care should be collected on a regular basis, Dr Suliman said. For this to happen, he added, it is essential that health professionals who work with the population are heavily engaged in the process. This week, the authority launched a training programme to encourage doctors and other medical professionals to become more involved in gathering statistics, and to recognise their value.

"Our medical professionals in the DHA health centres and hospitals have access to vital healthcare data," said Dr Khalil Qayed, director of medical education at the authority. He said he hoped medical staff would embrace the "culture of research" to make for more effective health care. Mr Essa Kazim, chief executive of health policy and strategy at the DHA said the initiative to provide in-house training to physicians and other staff in the public showed "serious commitment to research and evidence-based policy".