The leading Emirati researcher Dr Habiba Al Safar, inspired the HCT-Sharjah Women’s College (SWC) Med Lab group by her engaging talk outlining the genetic and environmental risk factors associated with diabetes, at the Family Medicine Conference in Dubai.
Dr Habiba has been honoured by HH Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE, and Ruler of Dubai and many others, as the top researcher for her work in identifying the genes associated with diabetes in the Emirati population.
“We didn’t have this disease in this part of the world three decades ago,” Dr Habiba said.
However, now it is believed that 40 per cent (327,000) of Emiratis are unaware they have diabetes. It is predicted that the region’s figure will rise by more than 80 per cent to 68 million by 2035 unless action is taken.
Dr Habiba has been engaged in doing genome-wide analysis of Emirati families and has identified the gene loci on chromosomes 4, 8 and 14. While interacting with the SWC team, she offered the students the opportunity to join her for research work after graduation and also to train in advanced molecular biological techniques to work for the better future of the UAE in healthcare.
Apart from discussing many aspects of diabetes the conference covered a wide range of topics of current interest – from close-by infectious threats, such as Ebola and MERS, to issues in genetic and reproductive health, bowel disorders, hearing loss, common dermatoses and others, all of which kept the students listening in rapt attention.
Fatima Hassan, a Semester-7 student, remarked: “This is like a full revision of the Biology of Diseases course.”
Dr Mariam Matar, the chairperson of UAE Genetic Diseases Association, kindly sponsored the SWC delegation to attend the event. During her talk on patient engagement in family medicine, she narrated her experience of convincing the Bedouin tribal leaders from Ras Al Khaimah mountains to allow their women to come forward for DNA testing prior to marriage and how she overcame the traditional taboos to allow family genetic screenings.
These women who so eloquently shared their trials and tribulations in reaching their well-deserved positions as leaders in healthcare in the country provide inspirational role models for the SWC students.