Health in Qatar is a big topic these days. From strategies launched by the Ministry of Health, to achievements for the public. Health and Life sat with His Excellency Doctor Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, Director of Public Health, to find out how healthcare is addressed in Qatar.
To begin, Your Excellency, what has been accomplished by Qatar’s health prevention strategy?
The preventative health strategy is the third goal of Qatar’s National Health Strategy. The strategy aims to tackle issues, the most important being traffic accidents, physical nutrition, smoking, environment, and public health. All of the targets related to those issues were more than 80 percent reached last year. This year, we are working towards better goals and achieving more of our objectives.
What are the biggest challenges you face in dealing with public health?
The biggest challenges we face are placing the concept of public health and preventative health at the forefront of people’s minds and demonstrating its importance, because people don’t know that the best treatment is prevention. The largest death toll comes from traffic accidents and is mostly centered around Qataris. One in every nine road accidents is fatal, which shows us how severe the issue is. We are working on a strategy that includes creating laws and multiple awareness campaigns, and what we see is that the accidents don’t increase, but they don’t decrease either. The aim is to work together to teach the laws of the road and aim for better health. Another public health concern in Qatar is disease prevention, especially diabetes and blood pressure. We would like to see an increase in health awareness in every part of the country.
Are chronic illnesses presently more dangerous in Qatar than contagious diseases?
Seventy percent of all deaths in Qatar are attributed to chronic diseases. That very high number can be seen as a blessing when we consider the fact that we can now prevent contagious diseases like AIDS, hepatitis, and tuberculosis (TB). Fatal diseases like Ebola are basically non-existent in Qatar, because of a strong preventive system and a program of vaccinations that is 95 percent effective and prevents diseases from spreading.
We’re also currently focusing on heart diseases, cancer, and diabetes. The Ministry of Health works on promoting change in the community. Multiple strategies for various diseases are being put in place right now that may have an effect on the country’s statistics. For example, diabetes cases have decreased. As for cancer, the Ministry focuses on early detection, because this leads to better chances of survival, and increases the acceptance of treatment in Qatar instead of receiving it outside the country.
What are some of the most common contagious diseases?
Campaigns against contagious diseases are very strong here in Qatar. We work constantly on campaigns for these and other widespread diseases as well. As you may know, TB is more prevalent than AIDS, because TB is airborne. However, AIDS is transferable from one human to another through sexual interaction. So dealing with one disease is different to dealing with another. We have regular check ups and border controls to stop disease from entering the country. We always encourage people to get regular check ups and get vaccinated to protect themselves from diseases like hepatitis B and C. Constant vaccination helps with prevention of the disease and helps eradicate it.
The Ministry conducts many campaigns on the dangers of smoking in the country. Talk to us about this topic; how successful is the Ministry in prohibiting smoking in public?
The percentage of smokers in Qatar is around 13 percent, which is very low compared to the rest of the world. For Qataris the figure is around 16 percent, with most smokers being men. Caring about this issue is a must, however, when the percentage is this low it is very hard to come up with drastic measures to combat the issue. Bringing the numbers down is easy, but for that last group that were not convinced you must design a special message. As for smoking in public and prohibiting it, inspectors working at the Ministry of Health are monitoring and giving out appropriate fines to those who violate the law. Another challenge here is that cigarettes are cheaper than any other nation, so we need to raise taxes on tobacco bought here. We welcome Katara’s contributions to making their location a smoke-free zone, and we welcome others to participate in this initiative from a health perspective and from the perspective of raising awareness.
Vaccinations are a great way of preventing diseases. What is happening with vaccinations now in the country, and what is new in this field?
Qatar is leading the world with its take on vaccination. Vaccination is the key to disease prevention, and our focus is to provide not only the necessary vaccines, but those which are optional, for free. All vaccinations are of the highest quality and ensure the best results. We also monitor and track vaccines to ensure that people are always up to date with their vaccinations. For example, we do not accept children in schools without a vaccination card. To make it easier for the public, we use new technologies for administering vaccines, for example we can combine 6 different vaccines in one needle to ease the pain. The electronic app offers reminders of annual vaccinations and alerts you if you miss one. We aim to change all programs to electronic versions so we can communicate with the population if any disease has broken out and vaccines needs to be altered.
In conclusion, what are you expecting for the Qatar National Vision and Qatar’s future health?
The Department of Public Health is working on launching their strategies of the years 2017 to 2022. Within a couple of months, the strategy will be ready for the end of 2016. We aim to deliver a service that is unique, preventative and sensible, and to be ready for anything that comes our way.