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Mon 5 Nov 2007 03:12 PM

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UAE to launch nationwide health screening

Programme to be rolled out at healthcare centres in next six months, official says.

Primary healthcare centres in the UAE are poised to launch national screening programmes in the next six months, a senior government official has told Medical Times.

Public sector units will roll out annual medicals in line with newly-launched clinical protocols, said Dr Haifa Feres, technical assistant to the director of primary healthcare, in a bid to improve early diagnosis rates and help collate medical data.

"We were previously providing some of these services, but not in an organised way," said Feres. "Now services will be in line with guidelines for each patient age group."

The check-ups will be free of charge to nationals, and offered at a reduced cost to expatriates, Feres said. General practitioners will be expected to screen for common diseases including diabetes and hypertension, and to actively manage referrals for mammograms and colonoscopies, for relevant age groups.

Clinicians will also be taught to offer counselling on common health needs, such as obesity, added Feres. "The Ministry has designed a guide for primary healthcare doctors in how to provide screening and counselling advising patients on risk factors."

The screening programme is expected to dramatically boost early diagnosis figures.

There are question marks, however, over whether the ministry has the capacity to accommodate the extra demand on services.

Feres admitted that public service units will struggle under the added strain.

"The problem will not be with introducing screening, but in having the resources to follow up and offer secondary treatment," she said.

"This will be the drawback that we have to overcome. If we try and screen everybody, we will have a lot more cases to deal with [and] we still have a problem at the Ministry with a lack of resources."

A pilot scheme has been implemented in two Sharjah health centres, and is expected to be duplicated in clinics across the rest of the country by March.

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