Over the years, I have worked on a lot of campaigns to raise awareness at community level in Dubai and, in 2009, I caught the attention of the World Health Federation, who asked me to join as a board member. My involvement with the federation has opened up many more opportunities for me on a local, regional and international level and greatly helped me take my awareness work forward.
A few years ago, I established the cardiovascular disease prevention group of the Emirates Cardiac Society; I am now chair of that group as well as Vice-President-Elect of the World Heart Federation, so you can say I am a champion of heart health in the UAE.
The Geneva-headquartered World Heart Federation is such an important organisation in the fight against cardiovascular disease. It is a global advocacy and leadership body that brings together the medical profession and civil societies, encouraging people to lead heart-healthy lives. It provides support to its member groups and facilitates the sharing of best practice and success stories in the effort to drive change.
The World Health Organisation aims to reduce overall mortality from major non-communicable diseases by 25 per cent by 2025. Non-communicable means you can’t catch it from someone else, and that really is our message about heart disease. We bring it upon ourselves through our lifestyle choices, through physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and smoking.
The good news is we can reduce these risk factors by watching what we eat, lowering our sugar and salt intake, exercising more and giving up tobacco and alcohol. These simple, yet effective changes also help in combating other diseases such as diabetes and cancer, which are likewise big issues for this region.
At the Emirates Cardiac Society, which is a non-profit organisation comprising cardiologists, our core activities are public awareness campaigns and educating physicians and healthcare providers to work with their patients to identify and mitigate risk factors long before any serious treatment is needed. We also conduct research and issue health guidelines.
A global hub
The UAE is still a young country, but over the past decade, as the healthcare system has developed and matured, we have been able to bring international medical events to Dubai.
The World Heart Federation holds its flagship global congress every two years and I am very pleased to say that it is returning to Dubai in 2018. In 2016, we were in Mexico City, in 2014 Melbourne, and on 5-8 December the world’s leading heart experts will gather again at Dubai World Trade Centre.
The World Congress of Cardiology & Cardiovascular Health is an interactive scientific convention where the latest developments in this branch of medicine are shared. What is especially exciting this year, is the convergence of the annual conferences of the Emirates Cardiac Society and the Gulf Heart Association, so it is really three events in one.
The World Congress of Cardiology was last held in Dubai in 2012, so the fact that the World Heart Federation is returning here just six years later is a real testament to the emirate. There are several reasons for this.
The first, I would say, is Dubai’s strategic location and its well-developed transport links and infrastructure. At the crossroads of Europe, Africa and Asia, Dubai is within easy reach of most of the world. Combined with the extensive route network of Emirates airline, modern airport facilities and efficient visa procedures, this makes Dubai a popular choice for hosting international events. Thanks to the wisdom of Dubai’s leadership, the emirate has also invested in world-class infrastructure that enables it to stage major events, such as those heldl at Dubai World Trade Centre where the world congress will return this month. It also offers a wide range of hotels to suit every budget, language is not a barrier, and it is remarkably safe. So, Dubai is a perfect destination for international congresses.
Second, the government is fully supportive of Dubai hosting major events. The World Congress of Cardiology in 2012 was attended by about 11,000 delegates, which is a huge undertaking. But we had the full backing of the government of Dubai, including Dubai Tourism, Dubai World Trade Centre, Dubai Health Authority, the Roads & Transport Authority and Dubai Police. To stage such a large-scale event, you need the involvement of all kinds of organisations to manage the accommodation, safety, traffic, transport and so on, but all the stakeholders worked together to ensure the congress ran smoothly.
People left Dubai in April 2012 with an excellent impression not only of the congress, which was very rich and up-to-date in terms of scientific content, but also the organisation of the event itself – the venue and the quality of hotels and service was so high.
During that congress, we actually showed a live transmission of an operation at Dubai Hospital. It was a complicated and sophisticated procedure, an angiogram and angioplasty, and, using the latest technology, we demonstrated a new technique here in Dubai. As someone who has lived in Dubai for more than 40 years and witnessed the rapid development of its healthcare system, that made me very proud. It wasn’t so long ago that we had to send patients outside the UAE for treatment, but now we have experienced physicians and well-equipped hospitals remotely demonstrating pioneering techniques.
There is a third very important reason that makes Dubai an ideal choice as host of the World Congress of Cardiology – its proximity to many of the World Heart Federation’s priority markets. Statistics tell us low and middle-income countries are most affected by cardiovascular disease, accounting for 80 per cent of global deaths. Among those considered as low and middle-income countries are India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and most of the countries of Africa.
These countries often have poor treatment and prevention programmes, which is a major contributor to high mortality rates, so that is where the federation is now focusing much of its efforts. Dubai, of course, sits among these countries and has the infrastructure and transport links to host an event of this size and scale.
One of the critical ways the World Heart Federation supports these countries is by providing roadmaps, or frameworks, for governments, healthcare professionals and civil society groups to follow in order to engage communities in the fight against cardiovascular disease.
These roadmaps are based on shared global best practice and are intended to get results in the fastest time possible. The roadmaps identify common obstacles and suggest potential ways around them. For example, they may help community groups to influence policy makers and petition governments to set national targets for combating cardiovascular premature mortality. They also provide step-by-step guidance on how to establish effective awareness campaigns around topics such as the dangers of smoking or high blood pressure.
These roadmaps have been developed by experts from all over the world, and it is at events such as the World Congress of Cardiology, that these specialists come together, network and share their experiences, pool resources and inspire each other.
More than 110 countries will be represented at the event in December; it will not just be cardiologists, but also general physicians and practitioners, nurses, medical students and other healthcare professionals, because we all have a role to play in promoting cardiovascular health.
The only way we will be able to hit our 2025 target is if everyone is engaged in the fight against cardiovascular disease, and that goes right down to the ordinary man and woman on the street. We are all in this together, and as a cardiologist who has spent her whole career in the UAE, I am so pleased to see Dubai supporting the World Heart Federation in this way.