MORTAL COMBAT

Abu Dhabi 2016 | HEALTH | FOCUS: LIFESTYLE DISEASES

The prevalence of diabetes, obesity, and lifestyle-related illness has been widely documented across the country, and in response the government has moved to put in place a number of facilities and initiatives to treat patients and reduce the prevalence of such diseases.

The Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD) confirmed that cardiovascular disease was responsible for 36.7% of deaths in the Emirate in 2013, with cancer accounting for 12.9%, making up almost half of the total. These statistics place these two diseases at the top of the HAAD's priority list. In Abu Dhabi, of the total number of inpatient visits across the Emirate in 2013, 11.2% were due to cardiovascular illness. This was second only to signs, symptoms, and ill-defined conditions at 19.3%, essentially common, communicable illnesses, and ailments.

On examination of the Emirate's figures, of the 406 deceased in 2013, 270 were Emirati, over double the average for expats in the country, which is worrying considering that in 2013 the UAE's total population was 9.2 million, and 7.8 million of them were expatriates. But at the same time, it is important to note that expats are more likely to return to their home countries if diagnosed with a terminal illness. In Abu Dhabi, according to the Statistic Center, calculations show local 476,722 Emiratis, just shy of a quarter of the expat population of 1,857,841.

The health needs of Abu Dhabi are largely met by SEHA entities, which experience almost 100% occupancy all year round in their Cardiac Care Units (CCUs), with 40% of all cancer inpatients admitted to Al Ain's Tawam hospital. It can now be anticipated that these statistics will change in light of the opening of the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi (CCAD), the newest edition of the Mubadala healthcare portfolio, which performed over 4,000 surgeries between May 2015 and March 2016. These included minimally invasive surgeries such as robotically assisted mitral valve repair and robotic multi-vessel coronary artery bypass grafts. The former allows surgeons to operate while causing less trauma to the chest cavity by creating a smaller, two-inch incision, as opposed to the eight-inch incision that is necessary for the traditional surgery. This two-inch incision in the side of the rib cage, rather than the sternum, results in much shorter recovery times and consequently a shorter stay in hospital, benefiting both the patient and health services and subsequently easing pressure on their resources. When looking at the financial impact, the two illnesses in question govern the agenda for insurance companies when making payouts for sufferers of critical illness. Zurich paid out AED246 million between January 2013 and December 2015 from policyholders who had either died or suffered from critical illness. A third of its life insurance policy customers had passed away or suffered from cancer, and 43% had suffered heart disease in some form. Zurich has a small share of the health insurance market, 50% of which is controlled by Daman, Abu Dhabi's public health insurance company.

HAAD is responding to today's patient profiles and has prioritized numerous targets to ease the burden on the healthcare sector. For example, the Public Health Priorities and Goals aims to reduce the burden of cardiovascular diseases by preventing the onset of, and improving control and treatment for, such diseases. Part of this includes a campaign to reduce the number of smokers and other tobacco users in Abu Dhabi.
There is also a recognizable increase in enthusiasm to teach people about the value of healthy lifestyles, especially in schools. Fifth on the list of Public Health Priorities and Goals is to enable school children and adolescents to adopt healthy lifestyle habits by supporting such environments inside schools.
Abu Dhabi's healthcare sector is making a firm pincer attack on the diseases affecting its population, targeting both high-level care for those affected and minimizing the prevalence of such diseases among the next generation.