Abu Dhabi: There are at least 19,500 women in the UAE who have rheumatoid arthritis and are not aware of it, said an official at the Women's Initiative for Rheumatoid Arthritis.

"Every woman, young and old, is susceptive to developing Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) ... at least 19,500 women ... have RA and are not aware of it.

"For that purpose the Women's Initiative for Rheumatoid Arthritis (Wira) has been conceived with the idea of spreading awareness about RA," said Nadia Al Mazroui, Military Medical Services Director at the Directorate of Medical Services and Wira spokesperson.

In the first campaign phase and as an awareness initiative, Wira together with the Ministry of Health, Health Authority Abu Dhabi, the Emirates Arthritis Foundation, and the UAE Rheumatology Club, will hold lectures at various women's organisations, social groups and public places like shopping malls. Materials about RA awareness will be circulated.

At a conference held yesterday, Dr Walid Al Shehi, a consultant rheumatologist, said RA may involve the internal organs if not controlled in the early stages.

RA is characterised by joint swelling, and ultimately loss of function. If not diagnosed early and left untreated, Al Shehi said, RA may cause possible lifetime disability. Treatment of RA costs up to Dh40,000 on average per year.

Dr Mustafa Al Izzi, consultant and chief of Rheumatology, Mafraq Hospital, said RA has an immense psychological burden.