The logo of the Show the Red Card to Diabetes campaign displayed on Ain Dubai as part of the celebrations on Wednesday night to mark the success of the 100–day nationwide initiative. Image Credit: Sajila Saseendran/Gulf News

Dubai: UAE health authorities have decided to screen 100,000 residents for diabetes after referring thousands to various clinics following a 100-day campaign titled “Show the Red Card to Diabetes”. The referrals were aimed at encouraging lifestyle modifications to reverse pre-diabetes.

This was announced as the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) celebrated the achievement of the 100-day challenge as part of the Government Accelerators Programme initiative, which targeted 5,000 residents for the early detection of type 2 diabetes at the national level. The national campaign includes several primary health care clinics affiliated with the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi, Dubai Health, and the Emirates Health Services, as well as some workplaces in the government and private sectors.

In October last year, the health authorities in the country joined hands with private entities for the one-year battle to prevent diabetes occurring in pre-diabetic individuals by conducting mass free screening programmes at workplaces, followed by intervention through lifestyle modification to reduce risk factors for diabetes.

More than 12,000 residents were screened, achieving more than double the target of 5,000 tests, officials announced at a ceremony to celebrate the success of the campaign in front of Ain Dubai on Wednesday night.

Dr. Salem Al Darmaki, Advisor to the Minister of Health and Prevention, said the success represented a quantum leap towards achieving the goals in reducing the prevalence of the disease. “It reflects the continuous efforts to enhance its prevention by providing early examinations to identify potential risks and take the necessary measures,” he said.

Dr Buthaina Bin Belaila, head of Non-communicable Disease (NCD) and Mental Health Department at the ministry, revealed that a total of 12,877 residents were screened. “Of these, 8.9 per cent were found to be prediabetic while 1.7 per cent had already become diabetic,” she revealed.

All the patients who have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes have been referred for further follow up on the spot to make lifestyle changes, she said.

Unique campaign

“What is unique about this campaign is that it is the first such national campaign and we are closing the circle,” she added.

Dr Buthaina said the campaign used digital questionnaires to assess the risks of the participants and based on that they underwent haemoglobin A1C (HbA1C) test for the first time, instead of the routine instant glucose test.

“We are providing counseling [to those who were found to be diabetic and prediabetic] and also lifestyle modifications. We are offering them three-month and six-month follow ups at workplaces and in the community.”

The HbA1C test measures your average blood sugar level over the past three months. An A1C below 5.7 per cent is normal, between 5.7 and 6.4 per cent indicates you have pre-diabetes, and 6.5 per cent or higher indicates you have diabetes, according to the CDC.

How many patients manage to reverse their conditions would only be known after the sixth-month follow up, said Dr Buthaina.

However, she said previous initiatives, though on a smaller scale, had shown great outcomes in reversing pre-diabetes among the participants who followed a healthy and active lifestyle.

“We are hopeful that this will happen again. We will know the results when we complete six months.”

Health authorities have recommended exercising, choosing healthy food, avoiding smoking, alcohol and stress as part of efforts to help residents reverse pre-diabetes and prevent diabetes among those referred for lifestyle modifications.

Dr Buthaina said the year-long campaign will continue and target to screen 100,000 people for free.

While those with insurance coverage would be tested under their respective insurance packages, those who are not covered would benefit from free testing services offered by private healthcare partners of the campaign.

EHS, Dubai Health

Dr. Shamsa Lootah, director of the Public Health Department at Emirates Health Services (EHS), said, coinciding with the national campaign, EHS launched a comprehensive screening programme which includes a variety of tests and machine learning to identify the risk factors for various diseases, including diabetes, with the aim of moving from reactive to proactive services to reduce the burden of the diseases and to improve the overall community health.

“Through this programme, we were able to identify and provide proactive services to around 31 per cent of the patients at risk of developing diabetes, and three per cent of newly diagnosed diabetes patients, all of whom are receiving required care and treatment,” she said.

“This is only the first step towards a healthy community and healthy lifestyle. Together, we can make a difference,” Dr Shamsa added.

Dr Alia Rafee, consultant and director of Specialty Programmes Services at Dubai Health, said Dubai Health screened 3,488 patients in its campaign.

“We found 3.5 per cent of these patients to be diabetic and 36.7 to be pre diabetic. 100 per cent of these patients who are pre-diabetic and diabetic were referred to the NCD clinic and they are being taken care of,” she said.

Big challenges

Dr. Omniyat Al Hajri, executive director of the Community Health Sector at Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre, said more than 7,000 people were screened in Abu Dhabi in a partnership between the government health entities and five private healthcare groups.

She pointed out that “the real challenge is in encouraging people to find this silent disease in the pre-diabetes time”.

An endocrinologist, Dr Omniyat said she has started noticing a shift in the approach of patients as a result of the increased awareness as more people in the prediabetes stage are now seeking help.

Dr Hind Al Awadhi, director of Health Promotion and Education at DHA, said DHA involved families in encouraging active lifestyles during the campaign.

“We are telling them that your children will mirror you. So when you mention children to parents, they will do the impossible for their children…especially if they know that this can really benefit them and we show them the studies and everything. It’s not easy, but what we tell them is to take baby steps, change one thing gradually and don’t be very harsh on yourself.”

Ahmed Abou El Fadl, general manager of Merck Gulf, the main private partner of the campaign, highlighted the importance of concerted efforts of stakeholders to address the challenges of the spread of noncommunicable diseases in the UAE, especially diabetes, and improve the quality of life for the residents in line with The National Wellbeing Strategy 2031.

He hoped that more entities would come forward in support of the campaign to achieve the new target of 100,000 screenings.