UAE assembles health experts to map out risks

Abu Dhabi // The UAE is assembling some of the world's "best minds" next month to discuss health risks and help set the country's research agenda. The panel will talk about epidemics, genetics, food security and other critical issues during a four-day event at UAE University in Al Ain. Speakers include Sir Richard Feachem, the former undersecretary of the United Nations, and Dr Haile Debas, the chancellor of the University of California and a member of the UN Commission on HIV/Aids and Governance in Africa.

"We are bringing some terrific people from around the world to talk about the big issues facing the world in terms of risks to health, and we will work out what this nation and this university needs to focus on," said Professor Rory Hume, the provost of UAE University. By attracting top international experts to the event, the university hopes to strengthen its research capabilities and, in turn, improve the UAE's ability to prepare for future health risks.

Around 60 speakers will present new research from a dozen countries in the Middle East and Asia. They will discuss topics ranging from infectious disease epidemics to climate change. "We want to identify the six to 10 big issues that we should study where the knowledge we develop could uniquely contribute to the health and stability of this country and the region," Prof Hume said. "We will be listening to the best minds. Understanding what is going on is always the first step, and in health care the best preventive measures are the best investments."

Because the UAE has a lot of commerce and human traffic, he said, it was crucial that it understood how it could be affected by a global situation such as the H1N1 pandemic. "As populations move across continents in greater numbers, they are taking with them a complex mixture of people, customs and commerce," he said. "With these global flows, diseases are spreading, too. Public health is global health now."

The event, called Global Health and the UAE - Asia-Middle East Connections, will also feature experts from the Arab region. Lihadh al Gazali, a professor of clinical genetics and paediatrics at the UAE University, will discuss how inherited disorders are critical to life expectancy in the Gulf. Dr Iman Nuwayhid, the dean of the faculty of health sciences at the American University in Beirut, will present work on how Arab nations are particularly vulnerable to climate change and its health consequences.

The event will run from January 4 to 8.

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