Diabetes: Saudi Arabia’s growing health problem

Diabetes: Saudi Arabia’s growing health problem
Updated 13 April 2019

Diabetes: Saudi Arabia’s growing health problem

Diabetes: Saudi Arabia’s growing health problem
  • A new report warns of a crisis in the region, but Saudi Arabia has plans to tackle it
  • The Kingdom is ranked among the top 10 countries in the world with the highest prevalence of the condition

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is aiming to defuse its diabetes time bomb by reducing the prevalence of the disease by 10 percent over the next decade, with a new report warning of the crippling economic and social burdens the illness
is placing on the region.

While several Middle East countries have a roadmap to stem a crisis that threatens to overwhelm health-care systems — with Saudi Arabia highlighted as a key example — the region is experiencing what is “potentially the greatest epidemic in human history,” according to an in-depth report on diabetes in MENA by advisory firm Colliers International.

According to the report, “Diabesity — Impact on the MENA Region,” an estimated 39 million people suffer from diabetes in the region. However, this figure will soar to 82 million by 2045 — an increase of 110 percent —  unless governments work to create a U-turn on prevalence rates by embracing revolutionary technology, improving prevention programs and implementing new measures to control lifestyle diseases. 

“Aside from the genetic basis of diabetes, changing lifestyles — often a result of rising disposable income and urbanization — are considered as one of the major contributing factors for diabetes,” said Mansoor Ahmed, the Middle East and North Africa director of real estate, health care, education and PPP for Colliers International.

“A drop in activity and unhealthy dietary habits have combined to form a variety of lifestyle diseases, and health professionals and researchers now consider diabetes as potentially the greatest epidemic in human history.”

According to the World Health Organization, 425 million adults globally suffer from diabetes. One in three adults over the age of 18 years is overweight and one in 10 is medically obese, causing 1.6 million deaths directly attributable to diabetes each year.

Complications of the disease include blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, strokes and lower limb amputation.

Based on estimates by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), the number of diabetic patients worldwide is expected to increase from 425 million in 2017 to 629 million in 2045; an increase of 48 percent. However, the biggest increase is expected to be in MENA (110 percent) and Africa (156 percent), affecting mortality, loss of productivity and increased health-care spending. 

According to the Colliers report, 17.9 percent of the Saudi adult population has diabetes, and many more are likely to be either undiagnosed or pre-diabetic, a condition that leaves many on the edge of the chronic disease. More than a third (35.4 percent) of the Kingdom’s adult population is obese. 

In 2017, health-care spending on diabetes in MENA reached
$21.3 billion and is expected to rise by 67 percent, or $35.5 billion,
by 2045. 

Saudi Arabia spends the largest proportion of its health-care budget (24 percent) on diabetes, according to the report, which also revealed that in the MENA region, the prevalence of diabetes and obesity is one of the highest in the world. 

Eight Middle Eastern countries — Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt and Lebanon — have the highest ratio of obesity among adults globally, with 27 to 40 percent of the total population being chronically overweight. 

The Colliers report notes that many governments in the region, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are taking steps to control lifestyle diseases that lead to diabetes and obesity.

The Kingdom plans to reduce diabetes prevalence and “aspires to be at par with the average of the top 5 most livable countries (where diabetes prevalence ranged from
3 to 8 percent) from its current 17.9 percent,” said Ahmed.

“The 2020 target is to achieve a 3 percent reduction in obesity and to decrease diabetes prevalence by 10 percent by 2030.”

A recent survey by the Saudi Scientific Diabetes Society said that “more than 52 percent of patients with Type 2 diabetes die of cardiovascular causes,” and the Kingdom is ranked among the top 10 countries in the world with the highest prevalence of diabetes.

Saudi Arabia, said Ahmed, should be praised for introducing measures to create a healthier nation and, in turn, reduce prevalence rates.

“Many governments in the region, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have taken steps to control lifestyle diseases that lead to diabetes and obesity,” said Ahmed. “For example, the Saudi government’s ‘Quality of Life Program 2020’ is one of the Vision Realization Programs of Saudi Arabia 2030, which aims to enhance the quality of life in the Kingdom through lifestyle improvement by increasing individuals’ participation in entertainment, sport and cultural activities.”

As part of its Quality of Life Program, Saudi Arabia aims to boost student participation in sports by 25 percent and to lift the numbers of fitness coaches across the Kingdom to 4,500.

Other measures, including taxing sugary drinks, fitness initiatives and focusing on preventative care, have already been rolled out to address the rising epidemic. 

The report sets out a number of recommendations for MENA countries, including embracing key trends in science and technology such as artificial intelligence (AI), “wearables” in technology and telemedicine.

“Advancement in mobile and communication technology is playing a critical role in the management of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and obesity,” said Ahmed. “It is becoming increasingly possible to track a patient’s key parameters such as ECG (a recording of the electrical activity of the heart), temperature, blood pressure, glucose levels, physical activity and diet intake through mobile apps, wearable devices or implanted devices.

“The data can then be transmitted to health-care providers for monitoring of a patient’s vital signs, adherence to treatment plans and to provide remote consultation/coaching when needed.”

Ahmed said the “explosive growth” in telemedicine — the remote delivery of health-care services — and AI should also
be utilized.

“AI has immersive benefits to overweight/obese and pre-diabetic and diabetic individuals as they can actively monitor their health and take risk-litigating measures,” he said. “Data gathered from AI apps can provide deep insights on epidemiology and disease patterns. 

“Environmental, regional, occupational and genealogical data layered into AI-based systems can provide early profiling, allowing physicians to diagnose problems more efficiently.”

The report says regional health markets also need to plug current gaps, such as introducing specialized service centers, health-driven wellness retreats and dedicated rehabilitation centers, to drive down diabetes prevalence. 

Ahmed said stem-cell therapy also offers a potential lifeline for major health challenges facing Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf, such as diabetes.

“Saudi Arabia is one of the few, but growing, list of countries which sanctions the use of embryos for therapeutic and research purposes if obtained from a permissible source, which includes the placenta or umbilical cord and leftover embryos from in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

The diabetes and obesity epidemic is mirrored across the region, said Ahmed, with Egypt and the UAE having similar prevalence rates to the Kingdom. 

In Oman, Dr. Wasim Sheikh Hammoud, a specialist endocrinologist at Aster Al Raffah Hospitals & Clinics Oman, told Arab News that by 2050 there will be an estimated 350,000 people with Type 2 diabetes living in the Gulf country, a 174 percent increase compared with 2015.

“Sedentary lifestyles and poor dietary choices are to blame for the rise in the prevalence of diabetes in Oman,” he said.

The UAE has rolled out similar tactics to combat the epidemic, such as implementing an obesity task force, introducing a sugar tax and discussing policies such as a blanket ban on the marketing of unhealthy foods. 

“Diabetes is a serious and increasing global epidemic, and accurate estimation of the burden is essential for efficient allocation of resources,” said Dr. Maneesha Pandey, a specialist endocrinologist at Aster Clinic, Bur Dubai.

“The Dubai Health Authority is coming up with a diabetes registry, which will provide real-time statistics of diabetes in the emirate. It will be of great help to draw appropriate strategies and tailor our preventive campaign accordingly. 

In addition, government and health authorities are making commendable efforts to increase awareness about healthy lifestyle and prevention of diabetes.”


Timeless craft of cane carving sees Saudi statement pieces go global

Visitors to Saudi Arabia are constantly on the hunt for souvenirs such as swords, or canes. (Photos/Supplied)
Visitors to Saudi Arabia are constantly on the hunt for souvenirs such as swords, or canes. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 22 June 2021

Timeless craft of cane carving sees Saudi statement pieces go global

Visitors to Saudi Arabia are constantly on the hunt for souvenirs such as swords, or canes. (Photos/Supplied)
  • Adel Al-Shehri turns handmade sidr pieces into online phenomenon using local talent, materials

MAKKAH: A young Saudi in the south of the Kingdom is bringing back the timeless craft of hand carving wooden canes with a new look to suit modern tastes, driving demand from Hajj pilgrims and online customers from around the world.

Walking canes have always been associated with the elderly and ill, and usually comprise simple designs that focus more on function rather than appearance.
That association has prompted Adel Al-Shehri to give the concept a new life by bringing back an old craft and turning canes into famous statement pieces used by Saudis.
Through his work, he can convey the cultural and historical essence of Saudi Arabia by engraving cultural designs on sidr wood.
Al-Shehri grew up in the southern mountain ranges of the Kingdom and uses the old indigenous tree to create unique intricately designed canes just as his forefathers once did.
The sidr tree, known as Christ’s thorn jujube, is an evergreen species that is a deep-rooted part of the culture. It can be used in medicine and also in the construction of canes and wooden objects found in many homes in the south of the Kingdom.

FASTFACT

The sidr tree, known as Christ’s thorn jujube, is an evergreen species that is a deep-rooted part of the culture. It can be used in medicine and also in the construction of canes and wooden objects found in many homes in the south of the Kingdom.

He told Arab News that he inherited from his ancestors a love of artifacts, such as shiny swords and jambiyas, a type of dagger with a curved blade. Growing up surrounded by architecture adorned in stones and wood, Al-Shehri said that he wanted to bring the rich history of design back using a product found right in his backyard.


“Visitors to Saudi Arabia are constantly on the hunt for souvenirs, swords, or canes. However, shipping swords is a real problem, because they are considered white weapons. Meanwhile, some items lose quality or are damaged during shipping. This is why I shifted my entire focus to making canes,” he added.
Al-Shehri said that while carrying out his Hajj pilgrimage, he used his cane as a “crutch,” engraving his name on it. Soon after, he decided to use the phrase “Made in Saudi Arabia” and focus on the Umrah and Hajj seasons to introduce the product as a souvenir that could be carried back home by pilgrims. Al-Shehri said that some Hajj institutions even reached out to give out his canes as gifts at the end of pilgrimage tours.

The canes I create are enough to stop importing canes that neither accentuate our identity nor highlight our intellectual and cultural message.

Adel Al-Shehri

He said that many people from across the world have requested their canes through Hajj institutions or on social media.
Most recently, he added, a German citizen requested four canes with different designs inspired by Saudi culture, but some customers request personalized canes or ones that are specifically customized to illustrate a memory.
Al-Shehri said that the canes he designs are delivered in handmade luxurious boxes that serve as a masterpiece to be displayed in a customer’s home. He described the cane as a “sign of prestige, warmth, and hospitality.”
The first thing that caught his attention as a child was how his family stores their ancient swords, guns, and jambiyas — all wrapped in ornate fabrics and stored in old boxes.

I inherited the love of artifacts from my ancestors.
Adel Al-Shehri

Al-Shehri had always wanted to put this heritage in the limelight and share it with other Saudi cities. The public’s broad praise of his initial work was the first building block in his dream toward producing his canes. He stressed that he often uses sidr wood for the canes because the diameter must be more than 40 centimeters.
For the wood fibers to grow, the sidr must also be dried for six months. “The handle is made from the core of sidr wood so that it could bear the grafting, which sometimes may reach a thousand grafts inside,” Al-Shehri said. With no educational experience, his drive to create such masterpieces taught him to push through and learn the craft with time and patience. “The manufacturing stages became an inspiration and taught me the ins and outs of this creative craftsmanship, which shaped the features of my personality and led me towards worlds of magic and beauty,” he said.
“I was first concerned with the metal lathe and mastering its unique way of manufacturing accessories and adding wood to them. I then focused on the element of touch and adding luster in the absence of real manufacturers in this field. I insisted on mastering the metal lathe myself so I would not have to depend on anyone else. My workshop, filled with nickel, chrome, stainless steel, and brass, along with the metal and wood lathes, became my best friend.
“I work for hours on end to meet the various requests, especially if a customer places an order for a special occasion with a tight deadline,” he added.
Al-Shehri said that what he and many other craftsmen in the Kingdom do promotes the Saudi culture and is a sign of pride in the Saudi identity. “The canes I create are enough to stop importing canes that neither accentuate our identity nor highlight our intellectual and cultural message.”


Saudi security officials arrest Ethiopian national for selling drugs in Asir region

Saudi security officials arrest Ethiopian national for selling drugs in Asir region
Updated 22 June 2021

Saudi security officials arrest Ethiopian national for selling drugs in Asir region

Saudi security officials arrest Ethiopian national for selling drugs in Asir region
  • He was caught violating the border security system in Balqarn Governorate
  • Initial legal measures have been taken against him

RIYADH: Saudi security officials arrested an Ethiopian national in Asir region who was accused of distributing hashish and was found with a large quantity of amphetamine tablets in his possession.
Spokesman for the General Directorate of Narcotics Control Capt. Mohammed Al-Nujaidi said that during a “proactive security follow-up of the activities of criminal networks that smuggle narcotic drugs into the Kingdom,” an Ethiopian was caught violating the border security system in Balqarn Governorate, in the Asir region.
He was arrested for selling a quantity of cannabis while 1,096 amphetamine pills were found in his possession, he added.
Capt. Al-Nujaidi said that initial legal measures have been taken against him, and he has been referred to a branch of the Public Prosecution.


16 Saudi companies join Arab Health Exhibition under ‘Made in Saudi Arabia’ program in Dubai

The Arab Health Exhibition 2021, in Dubai, UAE, is being held from June 21 to 24, with participation from 16 Saudi companies. (Screenshot)
The Arab Health Exhibition 2021, in Dubai, UAE, is being held from June 21 to 24, with participation from 16 Saudi companies. (Screenshot)
Updated 22 June 2021

16 Saudi companies join Arab Health Exhibition under ‘Made in Saudi Arabia’ program in Dubai

The Arab Health Exhibition 2021, in Dubai, UAE, is being held from June 21 to 24, with participation from 16 Saudi companies. (Screenshot)
  • Saudi companies in the health, pharmaceutical and specialized medical equipment fields took part
  • The program also aims to expand regionally and globally through actively participating in international exhibitions and conferences

RIYADH: The “Made in Saudi Arabia” program is participating in the Arab Health Exhibition 2021 in Dubai, UAE, from June 21 to 24.
A total of 16 Saudi companies in the health, pharmaceutical and specialized medical equipment fields have signed up for the exhibition.
The “Made in Saudi Arabia” program is part of an initiative to promote Saudi national products and services locally, regionally and globally.

The program seeks to market national products to raise the private sector’s contribution to GDP to 65 percent and raise the percentage of non-oil exports in non-oil GDP to about 50 percent by 2030.
The program also aims to expand by participating in international exhibitions and conferences with member partners. It will provide a package of opportunities for member companies enabling them to use the program’s logo “Made in Saudi Arabia” on their products to ensure commitment to a recognized quality.
A total of 66 countries are participating in the exhibition in Dubai, with more than 3,500 participants, and the number of visitors to the exhibition is expected to reach nearly 52,000.


Suzan Al-Yahya appointed as director general of Saudi Arabia’s Royal Institute of Traditional Arts

Suzan Al-Yahya appointed as director general of Saudi Arabia’s Royal Institute of Traditional Arts
Updated 22 June 2021

Suzan Al-Yahya appointed as director general of Saudi Arabia’s Royal Institute of Traditional Arts

Suzan Al-Yahya appointed as director general of Saudi Arabia’s Royal Institute of Traditional Arts
  • Al-Yahya will be responsible for managing the institute, implementing its strategic directions and developing traditional arts according to the institute’s vision
  • The institute will launch its first training courses in September aimed at enriching the traditional arts

RIYADH: Dr. Suzan Mohammed Al-Yahya has been appointed director general of Saudi Arabia’s Royal Institute of Traditional Arts.
Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, minister of culture and chairman of the institute’s board of trustees, made the announcement, the Saudi Press Agency has reported.
Al-Yahya will be responsible for managing the institute, implementing its strategic directions and developing traditional arts according to the institute’s vision.
She is one of the top academic experts in the field of art and design, having worked as a faculty member at Princess Nourah Bint Abdul Rahman University and held a number of administrative and advisory positions there. She also worked as a consultant and was a member of advisory committees inside and outside the university.
Al-Yahya holds a master’s degree in art education and a PhD in educational technology, as well as a PhD in educational policies and leadership from the University of Northern Colorado, USA.
She has published research in various fields and participated in several scientific conferences.
The institute will launch its first training courses in September aimed at enriching the traditional arts, training specialized national cadres, raising the level of public awareness and preserving the assets of the tangible and intangible cultural heritage in the traditional arts field.
The Royal Institute of Traditional Arts is one the initiatives of the Quality of Life Program, part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan. The Ministry of Culture aims to develop the local cultural sector and develop it through education and knowledge, as the institute will provide advanced educational programs for national skills to ensure.


Red Sea Development Company, KAUST sign research agreement

The Red Sea is home to abundant species of coral and marine life, including a large number of species found nowhere else on earth. (Courtesy: Red Sea Project website)
The Red Sea is home to abundant species of coral and marine life, including a large number of species found nowhere else on earth. (Courtesy: Red Sea Project website)
Updated 22 June 2021

Red Sea Development Company, KAUST sign research agreement

The Red Sea is home to abundant species of coral and marine life, including a large number of species found nowhere else on earth. (Courtesy: Red Sea Project website)
  • The agreement will see the two organizations cooperate in fields such as marine environment sustainability, food security and energy conservation

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Development Company signed a research agreement with the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) on Monday, Saudi Press Agency reported.

“There is a growing realization that tourism must be more sustainable and renewable, and the Kingdom’s Red Sea coast is among the purest ecosystems in the world, so our collaboration with KAUST helps go beyond just conservation. on the environment to enhance this unique ecological treasure for future generations,” John Pagano, CEO of the Red Sea Development Company, said.

The agreement will see the two organizations cooperate in fields such as marine environment sustainability, food security and energy conservation.

Pagano pointed out that the first task within the framework of the new research agreement is the continuous scientific monitoring of environmental changes over time, as this helps the Red Sea Development Company to fulfil its commitment to achieve an increase in the value of biodiversity in the project area by 30% by year 2040.

The head of Environmental Sustainability at the Red Sea Development Company, Dr. Rusty Brainard, explained that achieving carbon neutrality and improving biodiversity at the site is a difficult task, but  is extremely important for the company.

He reported that 11 of the current employees in the Environment and Sustainability Department of the Red Sea Development Company have previous professional experiences at KAUST, including seven employees who obtained a doctorate degree, and two who completed an associate's degree at the same university.

A joint working group between the Red Sea Development Company and King Abdullah University of Technology and Science is currently planning to establish a joint center for marine research and the protection of coral reefs on the Red Sea coast, which will become a permanent base for marine research and monitoring, and will open its doors in the future for visitors to learn about the natural environment and wildlife in this area.