RAK: Health matters

The public and private sectors of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) are combining to combat one of the greatest health problems facing the emirate – diabetes – with both the cause and the effects of the illness being targeted.

According to data from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), more than 32.5m people in the Middle East have developed diabetes, a figure the organisation says will jump by 80% by 2030. The IDF estimates that 25% of the UAE’s population has diabetes, a total that is rising despite increased education programmes, public awareness campaigns and early treatment schemes enacted by each emirates’ government. This high rate of affliction means that the UAE has the unwelcome distinction of having second-highest per capita level of diabetes in the world.

In RAK, the situation is even worse for those in the 40- to 70-year-old bracket: figures from RAK Hospital show that 50% of people in that age group have diabetes, many of who may not be aware they are suffering from the condition.

The sharp jump in the incidence of diabetes in RAK and elsewhere across the region is mainly due to major economic and social changes in the region over the past three decades, with oil wealth bringing about a dramatic change in lifestyles, IDF reports say.

State agencies have been stepping up efforts both to curb the increase in cases and raise awareness of best practices for those already suffering from diabetes. According to Dr Yasser Essa Al Nuaimi, the director of RAK Medical Zone, the emirate’s main health services centre, with up to half of those suffering from diabetes in RAK not maintaining a healthy regime, such as keeping blood glucose at normal levels, it is essential to educate the public.

“Raising people’s awareness is very critical in curbing the chronic disease,” he said in an interview local media in November.

The RAK Medical Zone is conducting an extensive survey to determine people’s awareness of diabetes, its types, syndromes, complications and the best protective measures. The information gathered from this study will be used to better focus future education campaigns, as well as help determine treatment requirements.

While RAK government agencies are striving to reduce the future incidence of diabetes, locally based firm Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries (Julphar) is stepping up its efforts to ensure the medicinal needs of sufferers are met. The finishing touches are being put to a new $136m biotechnology plant that will produce raw material for the insulin vital in the treatment of the disease.

The project, which has been eight years in the making, should meet all of the UAE’s requirements for insulin and far more, said the company’s chairman, Sheikh Faisal bin Sager Al Qassimi.

“The first-of-its-kind factory in the Middle East will annually produce 1500 kg and 45m vials of the raw material for insulin,” he told local media in December.

Julphar’s production of insulin will do more than benefit those in need of treatment. It will also have a healthy impact on the local economy, as lower manufacturing and shipping costs mean expensive imports will be less attractive. With up to 8% of the UAE’s health budget dedicated to the treatment of diabetes, the less expensive locally produced medicine could free up funds for use elsewhere.

Up to 80% of the plant’s output is also to be exported, once approval has been obtained from various regulatory agencies in overseas markets, such as the European Union.

Julphar is also spreading its wings in the region, announcing plans in late November to establish a pharmaceutical factory in Jeddah to produce and distribute pharmaceutical products in Saudi Arabia and the wider region. Working in partnership with Saudi firm the Cigalah Group, the $40m plant will be set up in the King Abdullah Economic City. Construction on the plant is slated begin this month and expected to be completed by the end of 2013.

Julphar has been looking at other foreign markets as well. In July, the company signed an agreement with the Algerian Ministry of Health to establish a $26m production facility outside Algiers.

By improving public awareness of diabetes and its causes, RAK may be able to reduce the number of its citizens who will go on to develop the illness, while Julphar’s local production of treatments will mean that those who do have diabetes should have easier access to affordable insulin.

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