Posted on March 30, 2011

“The Middle East region has a long battle to fight against diabetes.  At Qatar Foundation we are facing this challenge head-on, for the benefit of Qatar and the region” President of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, Dr. Fathy Saoud, said at the 2nd World Congress on Interventional Therapies for type-2 Diabetes in New York.  Qatar Foundation and Hamad Medical Corporation partnered to support the three-day event in yet another push in the search for options to treat Type 2 diabetes, a devastating disease in both Qatar and the United States.

Qatar has one of the highest per capita rates of Type 2 diabetes in the world, with the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) ranking it fifth globally in terms of diabetes prevalence among people aged 20 to 79.  Five out of the ten countries with the highest diabetes rates were located in the Gulf. While the diabetes rate in Qatar was 15.2% in 2007, other countries in the region had similar rates. The rate in Bahrain was 15.2%, 19.5% in the United Arab Emirates, 15.7% in Saudi Arabia, 14.4% in Kuwait and 13.1% in Oman. By 2025, these rates are likely to double.

The explosion of diabetes in the MENA Region is mainly centered on Type 2 diabetes, the onset of which tends to occur at a relatively young age. The increased prevalence in the Middle East, especially among the more wealthy oil-producing countries, can be attributed to new lifestyle patterns in recent decades such as changes in nutrition, less physical activity, increased obesity and more smoking.

These high rates of diabetes take an enormous toll on the region’s economy, with regional diabetes-related healthcare costs totaling almost $5.6 billion last year alone.  Qatar-based institutions led by the Supreme Council of Health are working to reduce the burden of this disease through collaborative research efforts aimed at preventing and managing its development.

For example, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) in Qatar is tackling this issue through integrated healthcare systems and medical research.  “HMC has shown that a healthcare system comprised of a team of specialized care professionals can result in improved blood sugar control and a reduction in diabetic complications. This was evident in research studies on pregnant diabetic women,” said Dr Mahmoud Zirie, HMC Head of Endocrinology.

Qatar dedicates a staggering 2.8 percent of its GDP to research efforts in diverse fields such as biomedicine, environmental science, energy, and information technology. Qatar National Research Fund, a member of QF, allocates these funds to projects that involve Qatar-based scientists working with peers from around the world.

“At QF, we are funding large-scale multilateral research projects and establishing strategic centers of excellence to address diabetes.  Our strategy is to build on what has already been done elsewhere through the establishment of partnerships with global leaders in the fields of medical education and research,” said Dr. Saoud.

Current diabetes-related projects at QF are aimed at improving the accuracy and efficacy of the diagnosis, screening and treatment of the disease.  One such project, in partnership with Qatar University and Georgetown University in the US, uses molecular profiling tools to better understand the causes of diabetes, while another project aims to identify the genetic causes responsible for the disease’s development in the Qatari population.

Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, also based at QF, recently became home to biomedical research center that focuses among other things on the mechanism and proper management of diabetes and other related diseases.  This builds on QF’s overall strategy of complementing Qatar-based research efforts with expertise from abroad to develop regional and global solutions.

Qatar Diabetes Association (QDA), also a QF member, works to develop innovative programs aimed at diabetes management, prevention and education. QDA is also dedicated to raising awareness of major diabetes risk factors such as obesity, and holds educational programs on the subject throughout the Qatari school system.