Category Archives: Health

Polio in the Middle East, the vaccination campaigns are working


Preventive vaccination campaign against polio that was conducted for twelve months in eight countries of the Middle East was able to stop the progression of the disease in this region of the world, after the appearance of more than thirty-eight cases in Syria and Iraq.

According to experts from the World Health Organization and UNICEF, other preventive vaccination campaigns against polio have yet to be conducted over the coming months.

The disease appears to be limited according to the experts who met recently in Beirut. In a statement released by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, they explain that following the diagnosis of the cases mentioned above, a wide vaccination campaign was conducted in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Gaza and the West Bank, targeting some 27 million children aged between 0 and 5 years. More than a year has passed since the onset of the last case in Syria and nine months since the last case in Iraq.

“Under normal circumstances, we would have said that the epidemic was stopped”, said Maria Calivis, Regional Director of UNICEF in the Middle East and North Africa. “But since the conflicts continue in the area, UNICEF and its partners will spare no effort to ensure the protection the children need against this terrible disease.”

According to the experts gathered in Lebanon, many children could not receive regular vaccine, because of fighting in Syria and Iraq. This is the reason why other vaccination campaigns have yet to be conducted over the next few months, they said.

According to Chris Maher, head of department of eradication of the disease at WHO, the next step is to “reach all children in the region, even those living in the most conflict-affected areas.”

It should be recalled that WHO had confirmed the outbreak of the disease in Syria in late 2013, reporting at least ten cases of paralysis, that is to say, almost fourteen years after the disappearance of the disease in 1999. The resurgence of polio is mainly due to the deterioration of health facilities and lack of vaccination campaigns. The WHO said that the virus came from Pakistan. The disease also affected Iraq where vaccination has sometimes been hampered in some places because of the war.

Polio is a highly contagious disease that results in flu-like symptoms with fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, neck stiffness and pain in the limbs of the body. The disease is caused by poliovirus that multiplies in the intestine and is transmitted primarily through fecal-oral route. Not everyone develops the disease. Nevertheless, when mention of a reported case of polio, that is to say a case of paralysis due to the virus, this means that 200 people are already infected.

Preventive vaccination campaign aims to create this intestinal immunity. According to the national immunization schedules worldwide, every child should receive the injectable vaccine. But it provides individual protection to the child, and does not prevent it from being a carrier of the virus, hence the importance of these massive campaigns within which the oral vaccine is administered to children. This actually allows creating the intestinal immunity, preventing the virus to multiply. There is a catch, however. The oral vaccine may represent a risk for people with severe immune deficiency (cancer, AIDS…), since it is composed of attenuated viral strains. If they receive the vaccine, these children will develop a vaccine-associated paralysis, that is to say, they will develop the disease in response to the vaccine. That is why this category of children was excluded from the vaccination campaigns against polio that were conducted to date in Lebanon.

There is no treatment against polio. It is only possible to prevent it through vaccination. Some symptoms may nevertheless be relieved with medication (such as antispasmodics to relax the muscles). The WHO says, “Polio does not respect borders – every unvaccinated child is exposed. For every case of paralysis, between 200 and 1,000 children are infected without symptoms. It is therefore difficult to detect polio and also difficult to prevent the virus from traveling. Children living in areas with low levels of immunity are particularly vulnerable. Eradication of the virus is the best defense against polio imports. It is only once this goal is achieved that all children are protected.”





The Middle East is definitely obese!


According to a recent study that gathered private data and trends among 188 countries, it was found that more than 58% of the men and more than 65% of women across the Middle East and North Africa suffer from either overweight or obesity in 2013. More than three-quarters of the countries in the region have seen their rates of overweight and obesity increasing by more than 50% for both men and women. Altogether, there are 259 million people suffering from obesity or overweight in the Middle East. 180 million people are actually overweight and 79 million people suffer from obesity.

The study was published under the name “Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013”*. It was conducted by the Health Metrics and Evaluation Institute (IHME) at the University of Washington and published in The Lancet on May 28th, 2014.

According to the study, the prevalence of overweight and obesity of adults in North Africa and the Middle East increased from about 53% to 62% during the study period. In 2013, the prevalence of overweight and obesity rate among men was almost 59%, while it was higher among women, approaching 66%. In this region, Kuwait has the highest prevalence of overweight and obesity in adults in general.

During the 33 years of research, many Middle East countries showed a large increase in global obesity rates, including Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait. The top three countries in terms of increasing prevalence of obesity among men in 2013 are Qatar (44%), Kuwait (43%) and Bahrain (31%). The rate of obesity among women exceeded 50% in three countries in the Middle East, which are Kuwait (59%), Libya (57%) and Qatar (55%).

In most countries, including Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and United Arab Emirates, rates of overweight and obesity reached more than 50% in both men and women.

Overweight and obesity are some of the major health issues for children in the Middle East and North Africa. The prevalence of overweight and obesity in the region among children dramatically increased from approximately 19% to 25% during the study period, making the region occupy the third place in terms of regional spread of obesity and overweight in 2013.

The top three countries in terms of increasing prevalence of overweight or obesity among girls are Kuwait (46%), Oman (42%) and Libya (42%). The countries with the highest rates among boys are Qatar (34%), Libya (33%) and Lebanon (33%).

In Egypt, approximately one-third of boys and 40% of girls suffer from either overweight or obesity. Approximately 40% of Saudi girls also suffer from overweight or obesity. And it is the same situation for nearly a quarter of boys.

What should we do to fight obesity?

The World Health Organization defines overweight and obesity as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health” stating that “The fundamental cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended”.

Governments at all levels should act on the problem of obesity as they do to counter an outbreak of infectious disease or to protect the population of a toxic substance in the environment. They had to pass legislation to reduce smoking, as they were also right to mandate the wearing of seatbelts. The current situation of excess weight in the population has developed over several decades, especially because our environment has become absolutely unhealthy. Slowing weight gain and reversing the situation cannot be done in a few years. The impacts of these actions will certainly take place gradually. An annual improvement, however small it may be, will result in health benefits and considerable long-term economic benefits for the entire society.

By taking measures to promote the health of the population, governments play their role, which is not limited to looking after people who already became ill. Diseases caused by tobacco are in decline, deaths caused by drunk driving too. These successes are largely due to government policies and, of course, citizens who supported them. It will be the same for the obesity epidemic.


ToDo: Quitting smoking to get rid of back pain


Smokers, here is another reason to quit smoking! The terrible back pain you are suffering from may actually be one of the many negative aspects of smoking. A recent study* conducted by researchers at the British University of Rochester indicated that quitting smoking can reduce back pain for people who suffer from problems in their spine.

The association of back pain and nicotine

The study emphasized the importance of quitting smoking for patients suffering from spinal disorders, since the existence of a link between improved back pain and smoking cessation was proved. It also revealed that pain rates are significantly higher for smokers compared to non-smokers.

The study which lasted 8 months included 5,300 patients with back pain due to a problem in the spine. The researchers stressed the need to develop programs for those patients to quit smoking in order to get rid of their back pain. They found that among people who began receiving treatment, former smokers and non-smokers, the back pain was definitely better eased compared to current smokers who did not quit smoking during the study.

The researchers said that patients who quit smoking during treatment had the best improvement in pain compared to those who continued smoking as usual. Glenn R. Rechtine, M.D., a nationally recognized spinal surgeon and adjunct faculty at URMC, led the study and stressed that “nicotine increases the pain. The study showed that if he quits smoking during treatment, the patient feels better.”

Rechtine also pointed out that “This study emphasizes the importance of smoking cessation for patients suffering from spinal disorders because of the existence of a link between improved back pain and smoking cessation.” A previous study has been conducted on more than eight thousand people in Germany and showed that smokers were more likely to have chronic back pain than non-smokers.

Many people suffer from spinal disorders such as spine curvature disorders (the most common ones being lordosis, kyphosis and scoliosis). There are numerous reasons for the spread of these problems, mainly bad daily habits that most of us have adopted long time ago.

Spine harmful habits

There are several factors that can damage the spine, most notably:

– Sitting on the ground, which causes curvature of the back if it lasts for a long time.

– Back and neck banging which is a common habit among many people, but that can cause some serious damage of the spinal cord and the vertebrae.

– Charging the spine above what it can bear such as pushing a parked car, causing the back muscles to stretch more than what is allowed and possibly evolving to lead to a discal hernia and thus to sciatica.

– Fatigue at work.

– Lack of exercise and inactivity.

– Intense exercising.

– Sitting for long periods and bending in front of the computer, because it causes blood to flow to the legs and keeps the spine twisted for a long time.

Smoking in the Middle East

Trends have been varying since 1980 by country and gender. Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Yemen, Kuwait are still among the countries where smoking rates remain high.

Both Saudi Arabia and Yemen and Oman are among the ten countries that have a population of over one million and in which the daily consumption of cigarettes rate is the highest in 2012. Kuwait was one of the countries – including China and Russia – which suffered from a high health negative impact of the combined effects of the high prevalence of smoking and the consumption of cigarettes. Lebanon was one of the few countries in the world where smoking rates among women were higher than 20%.

Overall, the prevalence of smoking by age dropped by 42% among women and by 25% among men between 1980 and 2012. Despite the decline in the prevalence of smoking, high population growth contributed between 1980 and 2012 to increase by 41% the number of daily male smokers and a 7% increase of the number of daily female smokers. Lebanon is the only country in the Middle East in which the prevalence of smoking exceeded 20%.

Many Middle Eastern countries registered seriously high levels of daily cigarettes consumption. Smokers in Kuwait consumed an average of 22 cigarettes per day in 2012. The average daily consumption of cigarettes in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman was even higher. Saudi Arabia ranked sixth in the world according to cigarettes consumption with 35 cigarettes a day, while Oman ranked seventh with 33 cigarettes a day. Globally, the number of cigarettes smoked exceeded 6 trillion cigarettes in the world. The average consumption of cigarettes is higher than 20 cigarettes per day in 75 countries in 2012.

Read more:

Diabetes in the middle east, it is getting serious!


Head of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Medicine at the Medical College of the Arabian Gulf University, Dr. Faisal Al-Nasser said that the incidence of diabetes in the Arab Gulf “is one of the highest in the world”, and attributed this to the lifestyle and dietary habits in the Gulf region.

Dr. Al-Nasser gave a keynote paper at the International Conference of Family Physicians, which was held in Dubai, titled “Diabetes, the plague of our era”. During the conference, he explained that “the Arab Gulf is one of the top 10 countries in the world which are witnessing a steady increase in the proportion of patients with diabetes.”

He pointed out that the prevalence of diabetes in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), is ranging currently from 15 percent to 20 percent but is definitely expected to increase in the coming years.

He also pointed out “the beginning of the emergence of a strange phenomenon, a proliferation of type II diabetes of children in the Arab Gulf states,” while the illness used to be confined to the first type.

Diabetes is classified into three main types which are similar in the general characteristics but differ in their causes : Type I diabetes, Type II diabetes and gestational diabetes.

It is known that the second type of diabetes is spreading due to dietary habits and lifestyle, while the first type of diabetes is caused by genetic factors.

Dr. Al-Nasser predicted the increasing of the prevalence of diabetes in the Middle East up to twofold by the year 2030, bringing the total to 60 million ill patients.

About the recommendations that should limit the spread of this disease, Dr. Al-Nasser launched an initiative to establish a coalition of Euro-Arabic family doctors. He believes that this cooperation “will strengthen the role of family medicine in improving the health of the individuals and the society,” pointing out that the coalition will be organizing regular conferences to highlight the health and social problems encountered by the public communities in the Arab Gulf states in particular.

The British newspaper “Financial Times” highlighted on November 14, 2014 the high prevalence of diabetes among the population throughout the Middle East and North Africa and reported expectations of an increase of the burden on health care systems in the region unless governments take further action to change the life pattern there.

According to the newspaper, in a report posted on its website, one out of every 10 adults suffer from diabetes, half of whom are actually undiagnosed. The report invokes the quick increase of type II diabetes cases in the region, and without a true lifestyle change, a quarter of the population of the Middle East would be affected with diabetes by 2035, according to the International Diabetes Federation.

The newspaper report explained that overeating and junk food, in addition to the lack of physical exercise, undermines the attempts to control the spread of diabetes, which is associated with obesity, and with the increased incidence of obesity, particularly among children, the increase of diabetes is currently one of the most pressing health issues in the region.

The British newspaper quoted Mr. Adel, Regional President of the International Diabetes Federation, who said: “We have the highest prevalence of diabetes in the world, due to our habits in eating and lack of exercise.”

The federation expects to see the prevalence of diabetes double in the region during the next two decades, with the number of cases rising from 37 million (10% of the population) to 68 million (about 25% of the population forecast in 2035).

The newspaper pointed out that the disease has already caused 363 thousand deaths in 2014, half of whom are under the age of 60. Throughout the region, Egypt is one of the states with the highest population density and also the largest number of cases of diabetes, about 7.6 million, but the implications of diabetes are relatively higher in the wealthy states of the Gulf region.

International Diabetes Federation says that up to 70% of cases of Type II diabetes can be prevented or delayed through the adoption of healthy lifestyles, calling on governments to implement more regulations to encourage citizens to eat different foods and get used to exercising.


Ebola outbreak is a major health crisis which threatens most of the countries in the world at present. Thousands of people have already died, both medical practitioners and ordinary citizens, because of the Ebola virus. As of today, there are still plenty of discussions as to who or what should be blamed for the worsening of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, but people believe different things. As a result, up to this day, the public still has not reached any definite conclusion yet.

While it is true that the Ebola epidemic is political in nature, it would also be safe to conclude that it also poses a lot of economic threats for the countries affected by Ebola and those areas around it. As the death toll increases in West Africa, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea continuously face great revenue shortfalls and other financial difficulties.

According to the analysis of several researchers from Cambridge University, Oxford University, and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the worsening of the Ebola outbreak can be attributed partly to the shortcomings of the International Monetary Fund policies and programmes that have caused the financial immune deficiency of West Africa.

It has been found by the UK-based researchers that the rapid outbreak of Ebola is directly rooted from the policies of International Monetary Fund that have left healthcare facilities and systems in Africa underfunded. Because of this, health systems have not been able to cope with the Ebola outbreak effectively, resulting to the death of thousands of Ebola-stricken individuals.

The researchers claimed that the policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund have made it difficult to employ healthcare workers in West Africa. The study had mentioned that Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea were not able to employ doctors and pay them sufficiently, while the decentralised health systems made it almost impossible to put into action coordinated responses to the outbreak of the infectious disease. They also explained that the required economic reforms pressed by the Monetary Fund weakened the healthcare systems in the said three countries. As a response, IMF’s spokesman claimed otherwise by saying that it was all just a misunderstanding. He said that the mandate of International Monetary Fund did not encapsulate public health; therefore, it is not true that IMF policies have a link to the major health crisis in Africa. He further explained that the International Monetary Fund had provided $130 million dollars worth of financial assistance to the areas affected by the outbreak, and that IMF will give the same amount to the three areas in West Africa heavily affected by Ebola next year.

Rest assured, none of this is to say that the International Monetary Fund is wholly responsible for the outbreak. Various factors also need to be taken into account in examining the causes of the worsening of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa; but although the political and socioeconomic aspects are to be paid much needed attention to in examining this issue, the international community also have to recognize the need for the revision of the IMF fiscal and its monetary policies.



AFP. (2014). IMF Policies blamed for weak Ebola response.


loom band

Loom bands are one of today’s most popular toys. As a matter of fact, the Duchess of Cambridge even wore one loom band bracelet on her last trip to New Zealand. Even a legend such as David Beckham had done the same. In this highly modernized era filled with so many gadgets like iPads, smartphones, laptops, and tablets, it is incredibly fascinating to find a new trend which seems to be catching up with people of all ages who are supposed to be breathing nothing but social media by now.

Despite the craze people have over rubber bands, it has been found that loom bands can prove to be fatal once inhaled by children. According to the Journal of Laryngology and Otology, loom bands can choke children and cause their death once they are not brought to the medics immediately. This is why many medical practitioners worldwide are warning their adult patients to supervise their children while playing loom bands.

It has been reported that most foreign bodies can be easily removed from children once tiny objects have been stuck in their nose; however, once extremely small objects like loom bands have been inhaled, it can cause cardio respiratory arrest, and even death. Dr. Iain Bohler, a surgical registrar, has reported that he had experienced a situation where two children put the s-shaped hooks that come along with loom band bracelets into their nose. One of the two even choked and swallowed the hook. On another scenario, two children got loom bands stuck inside their nasal passages. It was extremely dangerous, so it demanded “local anaesthetic and crocodile forceps” in order to get the toys out. (Wilkinson, 2014)

In addition to this, it has also been reported that the plastic trinkets that come along with loom bands have cancer-causing chemicals that may lead to negative effects on children’s health. In Midlands and the South, The Entertainer had pulled out loom band charms from their eighty stores after the test results confirmed that some of the loom bands have high levels of phthalates (Harley, 2014). For toy stores all across the globe, children’s safety is always of paramount importance, this is why The Entertainer, a famous independent toy store, made the decision to value the demands of their customers and remove all loom bands from sale as they initiate full investigation regarding the matter.

RMS International Ltd., in response, clarified that not all loom bands pose cancer risks to its users. According to their spokesperson, only a number of PVC loom bands have phthalates that can potentially put people, especially children with weak immune system, in danger. In fact, after discovering that there are PVC loom charms that are dangerous to children, RMS International Ltd. automatically suspended all of its imports of loom bands into the United Kingdom to prevent bigger problems to arise.

Loom bands are still being continuously imported and exported until today. The best thing that parents can do as their children play with the colourful rubber bands and the charms that come along with it is to make sure that their children will not put it in their ears, nose, and mouth. Furthermore, it is almost important to ensure that the toys they buy for their children are safe and PVC certified.



Harley, N. (2014). Loom band charms removed from sale over cancer fear. Retrieved from


Wilkinson, E. (2014). Loom bands ‘inhalation danger’ to young children. Retrieved from


Author and lecturer Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”. It is indeed a glorious endeavour to put other people’s welfare before one’s self; but what if this venture reaches the stage where a strong pull between life and death takes place? Can helping people still be considered as a noble cause worthy of all the sacrifices?

Doctor Victor Willoughby, one of Sierra Leone’s top physicians, has recently become the 11th doctor who had died because of the dreaded Ebola virus. Doctor Willoughby, after being diagnosed with Ebola on December 13, died on Thursday, December 18. Many volunteers and healthcare workers, especially those whom the senior physician had mentored, grew disappointed upon the doctor’s death hours before the ZMAb, an experimental drug developed in Canada, had arrived in West Africa. Few weeks ago, two doctors from the United States who have showed symptoms of Ebola have been responsive to the experimental drug, and so, most healthcare workers stationed in West Africa hoped that this could increase Willoughby’s chances of survival. Many hoped that the 67-year-old doctor would actually be able to survive had the experimental drug arrived sooner. Unfortunately, before the dose of ZMAb could be administered, the doctor had already died.

Ebola is a highly infectious and fatal disease which can be acquired through human-to-human interactions. This acute illness spreads through direct contact from one person to another through blood, bodily fluids, mucous membrane, secretions, and clothing contaminated with infected people’s fluids. It is for this reason why many health-care workers and volunteers have died days after assisting and treating people infected with EVD. Most people also refer to Ebola as the “caregiver’s disease” due to the fact that it is commonly transmitted to those individuals who care for those who suffer from the disease’s symptoms.

It is, indeed, incredibly depressing and frustrating how those people who are helping those individuals who are Ebola-infected are the ones suffering the symptoms of the said disease.

This death of one of Africa’s health workers is not something new for it is something which has actually been happening for quite some time ever since the Ebola outbreak has started. Over 350 healthcare workers have died because of the said virus, and up to this day, the number of victims who belong in the medicine industry is still increasing. In this case, it is important to note that if West Africa citizens are falling as victims of the virus as fast as health practitioners because this implies that the outbreak of Ebola is far worse than what most people know.

Being a healthcare worker is a demanding yet rewarding task. At present, many healthcare workers sacrifice their own health and safety to help those in need. What the international community ought to do now is to aid them in addressing Ebola and give much needed help to all the people suffering because of the Ebola virus.