TBY talks to Dr. Manal Taryam, CEO of the Primary Healthcare (PHC) Sector at Dubai Health Authority, on health outreach initiatives, and primary and preventative medicine.

Dr. Manal Taryam
Dr. Manal Taryam is CEO of the Primary Healthcare (PHC) Sector at Dubai Health Authority since November 2013. In her capacity as CEO of the sector, she is responsible for the functioning of the PHC sector, which is highly specialized and includes Family Medicine, Community Medicine, and Dentistry, as well as specialized services such as Child Health, Elderly Health, Preventive Medicine, and Women’s Health. Dr Taryam has more than 17 years experience in both medical and managerial roles in the field of Ophthalmology and the Prevention of Blindness. In 2008, she became the President of the Ophthalmology Society at the Emirates Medical Association.

How would you describe the evolution of primary healthcare in Dubai, and what are the most important issues this institution has tackled?

Primary Healthcare (PHC) first started with the WHO declaration of the International Conference on PHC held in Almaty in 1978. In Dubai, the first medical clinic was established in 1943 in the Al Ras area; it provided primary health care. In 1952, Al Maktoum Hospital was established. In 1975, the PHC department was established and seven community health centers were built in Dubai to empower the outreach program and provide health services to all. In 1988, another six centers were established. Today, Dubai Health Authority's PHC sector operates 14 health centers and a nursing home for the elderly. It has several specialized services such as the dentistry department, health-related social affairs, community medicine, and preventive healthcare under its wing. Most recently, the PHC sector introduced 24-hour care in family medicine; this service provides 24-hour healthcare and urgent care to the community. These services are currently being provided in the Nad Al Hamar and Al Barsha health centers. This service encourages the community to consider primary healthcare as their first point of contact so that hospital visits are reserved for emergency situations.

How do you raise awareness of the need for a healthy lifestyle?

Health promotion and awareness comprises a huge division in the PHC sector. Health awareness is a crucial part of the Community Health Unit, providing health education and counseling to the community. With educational and screening programs designed for various community groups such as schools, universities, laborers, and even tourists, the unit helps raise awareness about lifestyle disease and prevention methods. PHC also includes traveler's clinics—these are specialized clinics that provide necessary vaccines and travel education prior to travel. In addition to this, different specialties in the PHC sector offer several health screening packages to the community. This includes screening for chronic diseases or malignancies. The newly established wellness clinic provides health packages that concentrate on screening programs for diseases in risk age groups, providing medical packages to the community. The wellness clinic will help in the prevention and the early detection of chronic diseases and malignancies to improve post-treatment outcomes.

What are the main challenges regarding the implementation of PHC services that are you expecting?

There are always challenges in everything we do, whether we are launching a service or educating people. The city is expanding geographically. Every month there is a new project in Dubai, and we have to keep up with the pace of change. We are opening three hospitals and 40 health centers in order to meet this rise in demand. Ensuring the right human resources are available, such as doctors, nurses, and health educators, and providing a high quality of service is another major challenge.

How important is preventative medicine?

PHC is all about prevention and outreach health programs. Practitioners work alongside epidemiologists to identify and arrest threats to health. We recently worked on the prevention of Corona, a viral infection causing a syndrome called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The Preventive Medicine Unit of the PHC joined forces with officials in the WHO, CDC, the Ministry of Health, and the Health Authority - Abu Dhabi to track, monitor and prevent the spread of the deadly virus. We run many preventive campaigns, such as Tobacco Free Dubai. PHC also ran the STRAP road safety campaign. In fact, we've just entered the Guinness Book of World Records for conducting the largest ever diabetes-screening campaign.