A new program, the first of its kind in the Middle East, has been launched in Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, and other Gulf countries to improve the early diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis in the patient population here. The “ENHANCE” Program has established Centers of Excellence in many hospitals, including Hamad General Hospital in Qatar to promote the early diagnosis and management of Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects an estimated 1% of the population. It has potentially devastating impact on sufferers, their families and society as a whole, and late diagnosis is a major obstacle in its successful management.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease characterized by symptoms that include, swelling, pain and stiffness of the joints, in particular affecting the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, shoulders, ankles and knees. Disease onset most frequently occurs between the ages of 40 and 60, but people of any age can be affected. It can be a disabling and painful condition, and if untreated, can cause permanent damage to joints, and can reduce life expectancy.
Having an early diagnosis and management center available locally meets an unmet need. Currently, there is a significant lag time between disease symptom onset and diagnosis, as well as a lag between diagnosis and treatment. However, seeking medical advice from a Rheumatologist and receiving treatment early has been shown to significantly reduce the level of irreversible joint damage, as the majority of joint damage in Rheumatoid Arthritis occurs in the first years.
Dr Mohammed Hammoudeh, Consultant Rheumatologist and head of division, Hamad General Hospital,commented, “Rheumatoid Arthritis can be a debilitating disease, negatively impacting patients’ quality of life and even their mental wellbeing, the earlier Rheumatoid Arthritis patients can receive treatment by a Rheumatologist, in the proper setting of an early arthritis clinic, the better the patient health outcome.”
Dr. Hammoudeh added, “With the launch of our new early arthritis clinic, we offer a unique and much-needed facility. We urge patients suffering from the symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis to seek medical attention, to help avoid unnecessary joint damage and improve their chances of successfully managing the disease, if diagnosed.”
The local hospitals participating in the ENHANCE program have undergone training and preparations to establish and manage an early Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis and management clinic, in collaboration with Dr. Karim Raza and colleagues from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. Joining select institutes across the Gulf, including from the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, the hospitals first participated in a kick-off meeting in November 2011 inBirmingham, followed up by a practical planning and training session in late February, all with the support of local health authorities.
Equipped with best practice for patient diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic diseases, experts returned to their respective hospitals to establish their own centers of excellence. As a final step in the pre-launch process, ENHANCE program director and international expert Dr. Karim Raza, Reader in Clinical Rheumatology & Honorary Consultant Rheumatologist, University of Birmingham, visited each hospital at the end of May to review clinical practice and meet Early Arthritis Clinic stakeholders.
“Through our preparations for launching this center, the local need for early RA diagnosis and care became more and more apparent. Information on RA among Arab populations in theMiddle Eastis scarce and Rheumatoid Arthritis can often be misdiagnosed. So, it’s important for patients who think they might have RA to see a Rheumatologist as soon as possible, and for general practitioners to refer their patients accordingly,” noted Dr Hammoudeh.
“Through ENHANCE, we are equipped to better understand RA in the local population, promote awareness of RA symptoms to increase the likelihood of early diagnosis, and leverage best practices for more effective disease management, which is expected to profoundly improve patient outcomes in the region,”he added.
Hamad General Hospital has recently initiated an Early Arthritis center. Since then, the center has been tracking patients in their disease management and treatment, and will analyze results in the future, to continue to optimize the patient experience locally and across the region.
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