Dr Maha Barakat | Director-general at HAAD Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: A comprehensive new health care strategy for the emirate of Abu Dhabi will focus on reducing critical gaps across medical specialities and improving access to health care, senior health officials announced in the capital on Wednesday.

One of the hallmarks of this plan, launched by the emirate’s health sector regulator, the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad), is to reduce the prevalence of genetic diseases among residents. In addition, personalised medicine programmes will also be introduced to tailor management of diseases based on each individuals’ predisposition to health risks, Dr Maha Barakat, director-general at the Health Authority Abu Dhabi, told Gulf News.

“Such personalised management of health is the future of medicine, and we are currently in the exploratory phase of implementing it. For example, a simple blood test can be used to extract the genetic profile of an individual, and based on inherent risks towards certain diseases, the individual’s future treatment plans can be determined and precautionary measures taken,” Dr Maha said.

She was speaking at a press conference held to launch the Haad’s health care plan for the next five years. The scheme highlights 58 initiatives distributed across seven priority areas, and was recently approved by the Abu Dhabi Executive Council.

While existing initiatives to improve patient satisfaction and to increase the reach of screening programmes have been revamped, new elements have also been introduced to address emerging health care concerns.

For example, the new plan aims to reduce the prevalence of genetic diseases, which were responsible for 2 per cent of all fatalities in 2013.

“We understand that many of these congenital malformations and abnormalities occur due to consanguineous marriages. A standing premarital screening programme does address this concern, but we hope to create greater awareness among residents about these risks as well. In addition, we also hope to increase pre-gestational diagnoses and treatment of diseases to limit the number of children born with severe malformations,” Dr Maha said.

There is still a shortfall in the provision of certain medical specialities in the emirate, including intensive medicine, neonatology, paediatrics, oncology, psychiatry, orthopaedics and rehabilitation. The Haad strategy aims to attract and retain specialists to fill these, especially Emirati professionals, said Dr Mugheer Al Khaili, the authority’s chairman.

Statistics released on Wednesday (December 24) show that about 4,800 more doctors and 13,000 nurses are required in Abu Dhabi by 2020, which translates into 1,700 additional doctors and 2,900 nurses annually.

In addition, officials are hoping to encourage further private sector investment into health care facilities.

“One of our focuses is to improve the access to health care in rural areas, including offering residents treatment in more medical specialities. We hope that private investors will see the feasibility and attractiveness of developing hospitals and clinics in these areas, especially given the incentives we provide,” Dr Al Khaili added.

Health officials are also working to assess the current status of psychiatric medicine with the aim of reforming it. This has long been an area of concern for residents, especially as there is a close correlation between mental illness and the chronic diseases that are common in Abu Dhabi.

Dr Maha said that the Haad is also looking into enhancing the sharing of data between hospitals so that an accurate record of patient histories can be maintained and used to inform treatment.