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Posted By: Stefan Lawson on December 23, 2014

Labels: United Arab Emirates , Chronic Disease

Stefan Lawson, Acting Regional Director, the Americas and Global Lead - NCDs for Project HOPE

Dubai is one of the most fascinating places I have ever travelled to, and its transformation over the past half century is mind-boggling.  Dubai is the most populous city and emirate in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a country located in the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf.  Just 50 years ago, the people of the UAE were living in tents in the desert. Now, many live in skyscrapers and villas of many different shapes and sizes. Nothing seems impossible here – man-made islands, indoor skiing, the largest shopping mall in the world, the tallest skyscraper, exclusive hotels and fast cars – it’s all here thanks to a booming energy industry that has changed the landscape.

There are approximately nine million people living in the UAE. Ten percent are Emiratis, and 90 percent are expatriates coming here from around the globe for employment. The majority of the workers are Indian men or Asian women working in the service and construction industries.

However, with affluence often comes changes in lifestyle. Fast food restaurants are everywhere. Portion sizes in restaurants are larger than in the U.S., which is known for its large portions of food. High stress work environments and a lack of exercise have led to growing rates of obesity in children and adults here, resulting in a 20 percent prevalence of diabetes – among the highest in the world.  I came to the UAE to carry out an assessment of the health care sector on behalf of a global pharmaceutical partner keen to identify gaps around diabetes care.

Diabetes and metabolic syndrome self-management is probably one of the biggest challenges people face here. Not dissimilar to many developed and developing countries, the environment plays a significant part in a person’s health.  I have seen first-hand how, over time, through building trust with patients and providing education and empowerment, we can help them make small lifestyle changes that can have a major impact on patients’ health and well-being.

Change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and a lot of hard work. This is the message I have been sharing with representatives from the Ministry of Health, the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi (HAAD) and representatives from the private health care sector.  I have been learning about the barriers to diabetes care in the UAE ranging from resistance to healthy lifestyle changes and stressful work environments to the abundance of convenience food and a lack of knowledge about correct portion sizes.

At Project HOPE, we affect change one person at a time. HOPE has legacy of success fighting chronic diseases like diabetes in China, India, South Africa, Mexico, Honduras and beyond. We have helped hundreds of thousands of people make significant lifestyle changes that resulted in healthier and more productive lives, and it’s my belief that we can help the many individuals in the UAE struggling with diabetes and metabolic syndrome soon as well.

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