Mohammad Baloola interview: Beating the bulge

Sudanese national says his new invention can help lower diabetes in the Middle East
Mohammad Baloola interview: Beating the bulge
By Claire Ferris-Lay
Sat 25 Feb 2012 08:49 PM

Mohammad Baloola Sudanese national Mohammad Baloola says his new invention can help lower incidence of diabetes — one of the most serious diseases afflicting Gulf populations.

With four members of his family suffering from diabetes, finding inspiration for a final year project to complete Mohammad Baloola’s biomedical engineering training at Ajman University of Science and Technology was easy.

The Sudanese national set about creating an artificial pancreas and a remote system to monitor the stability of glucose levels in diabetics. The device, which can be linked to a hospital database system as well as family and friends, enables an immediate response if a medical situation arises.

“I got my inspiration from my family members and the community around me. Many of my relatives; my brother, father, mother, uncle all suffer from diabetes. And they are not alone, the UAE has more than 350,000 diabetes sufferers, which is expected to increase nearly 100 percent to 680,000 by 2030 — it’s a critical situation in this part of the world,” he tells Arabian Business.

Poor diet coupled with lack of physical activity and rapidly rising obesity rates in the Middle East have seen diabetes rates soar in recent years. The disease currently affects an estimated 18.7 percent of the UAE adult population, the second highest prevalence worldwide, according to data from the International Diabetes Federation. About 25 percent of Emirati men and almost 40 percent of women in the country are classified as obese.

In neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the Gulf’s most populous state, more than twelve percent of adults aged between 20 and 79 years old are diabetic. Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman rank among the top eight countries worldwide for diabetes prevalence, according to data from the International Diabetes Federation. Experts have warned the financial impact of these rapidly rising diabetes rates could have a potentially devastating effect on the local economy if levels were left untreated. The cost of treating diabetes related illnesses ranges between 2.5 percent to fifteen percent of a Middle Eastern country’s healthcare budget, according to the World Health Organisation. In the UAE, Dr Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, the minister of health in the Emirates, estimates that figure to be around 13 percent of the Gulf state’s healthcare budget.

Several GCC governments have introduced programmes to raise awareness of preventative care but Baloola — only too aware of the financial costs involved in treating the disease — believes his device could help save regional governments millions of dollars in treating kidney failure and other related causes. “The biggest problem from diabetes is kidney failure, which occurs in critical situations, and requires dialysis three times a week, which is difficult for the patient and expensive for the government,” he says.

The monitor, which Baloola first developed back in 2008 and has been working on improving ever since, allows doctors to monitor diabetics through a hand-held mobile medical device kept by the patients. The database receives also alerts doctors of the patients’ location and condition if it detects any abnormalities. The product, which is about the size of an iPhone, comes in 86 designs allowing patients to choose the most appropriate to their condition.

“Patients have a choice as to what they want to do in case of an emergency; they can call the hospital, the police or any relatives. It’s especially good for children as they typically suffer from type one diabetes, which is more critical and can result in a coma. My device allows their parents to monitor any changes and react quickly to any abnormalities,” explains Baloola.

Baloola’s invention has already been recognised within the medical and scientific community. In April last year he was awarded AED40,000 ($10,890) by the Tumoohat Shabab (Young Ambitions) programme, produced by Sharjah Television and in November was received the science and innovation prize at the Arabian Business Achievement Awards. He has also been a regular face at medical conferences across the world, including in America, Singapore and the Arab Health Conference, where he has presented his ideas to the wider medical profession.

Baloola — now a biomedical engineering teaching assistant at the Ajman University of Science and Technology — is currently working on producing a patentable prototype and partnering with a large pharmaceutical brand to help develop his idea further. “There are many companies working in this area but not all of their monitors are as accurate. I am looking to partner with a leading company to get funding, as you cannot work alone in this field,” he says.

One area Baloola is keen to stress is that he wants to make his invention as accessible as possible with a retail price of around AED200 ($54.40) — about the same cost as a normal glucose meter currently available in pharmacies. “In 20 years' time my aim is to see every diabetic using one of my devices. I don’t want to see diabetes rates reaching 440 million by 2030,” he says.

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