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Road safety, air quality, cancer and mental illness are among the top health issues Qatar hopes to tackle in the next five years.

But as they finalize their five-year plan, authorities are also asking for residents’ views on how to improve the nation’s health and well-being.

This week, Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health launched a new online survey inviting public consultation.

It will be up for the next 16 weeks, and responses will feed into MOPH’s new Public Health Strategy 2017-2022, which is expected to be released later this year.

This plan builds on the previous National Health Strategy (NHS) 2011- 2016. It will focus on 16 priority areas identified for improvement, along with 63 objectives.

The new strategy was scheduled to launch last year, but has been delayed.

Collaborative approach

So far, the action plan entails improving road safety, tackling communicable diseases, boosting environmental health – particularly air quality – and combating cancer and diabetes, according to MOPH.

Other significant public health issues in Qatar including obesity, cardiovascular disease, workers’ safety and smoking will also be targeted for improvement.

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The online poll can be answered anonymously and takes about 10 minutes to complete.

It asks 16 questions to gauge residents’ views on their own health and fitness, and what they think are the main health issues in the country.

It was launched this week by Dr. Hanan Al Kuwari, Minister of Public Health, who said in a statement:

“By inviting feedback through the public health survey, we will be able to ensure the strategy aligns with the wishes of the very people it aims to help.”

Sheikh Dr. Mohammed H. Al Thani, MOPH’s Director of Public Health, added that the new plan aims to better educate the public about adopting healthier lifestyles.

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Plans are also afoot for more public screening programs to identify and treat diseases such as cancer early on.

In a statement, Al Thani said:

“To achieve the strategy’s vision for a healthy population we need individuals, families, employers, schools and government to all play their part and take responsibility for developing a healthier society.”

Health crisis

Despite being one of the richest countries in the world – or perhaps because of it – Qatar’s population is contending with significant health problems.

More than 70 percent of the population is overweight or obese and 83 percent get little or no physical exercise.

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And nearly half of all residents eat fast food more than three times a week, while one in six have been diagnosed with diabetes, according to a report presented this year.

Likewise, Qatar’s roads continue to be among the most dangerous in the world. Traffic accidents serve as the primary cause of premature death in the country.

On a bright note, the number of reported road deaths, accidents and traffic offenses did decrease last year.

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But young men remain disproportionately at risk of dying on Qatar’s roads.

According to the MOI, some 95 percent of the people killed in road accidents last year were male, while only 5 percent were female.

The new health strategy has three objectives to improve road safety in the country.

These include stricter enforcement of existing laws, such as buckling up, and more road safety education and awareness campaigns, particularly aimed at young people and pedestrians.

Cancer care

The new strategy will also focus on cancer by working to reduce the nation’s likelihood of developing cancers. Officials also hope to improve diagnosis and early treatment of the illness.

According to Al Kuwari, earlier diagnosis will lead to less invasive and potentially more successful treatment.

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A new five-year plan, the National Cancer Framework 2017-2022, was launched on Monday to support this, QNA reported.

Some of its goals include:

  • Developing programs to encourage healthier lifestyles;
  • Reducing tobacco consumption; and
  • Supporting the improved education and understanding of cancer.

Last year, Qatar’s health authorities ran public awareness and screening programs for breast cancer and bowel cancer.

The new cancer strategy had been due to launch last October, Lord Darzi of Denham, chairman of the National Cancer Committee, said last year.

Improving patient experience and providing better value-for-money for patients would be among its aims, he added at the time.

Insurance system

The new public strategy does not mention how healthcare in Qatar will be funded.

The country was on track to roll out health insurance for all of its residents. But in late 2015, the National Health Insurance Co. (Seha) was scrapped amid criticisms that a lot of money was being wasted.

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MOPH previously said that it would introduce the first phase of a new scheme that involves private healthcare providers this year.

But details of the proposed new initiative have yet to be publicly revealed.

Thoughts?

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People in Qatar who are struggling with depression and are unsure of where to turn now have a new resource – online counseling.

The service was recently launched by a former Qatar expat who believes people should have a chance to talk out their problems, instead of just being prescribed medication.

Recalling his time in Doha, Sam Nabil, a sports marketing manager turned professional therapist, said he was not impressed with the mental health care he received.

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“They just throw pills at you.They say, ‘take this, and you’ll be fine,’ ” he told Doha News.

Mental illnesses such as depression are a growing problem in Qatar, and authorities have been working to address it. Public awareness campaigns have tried to reduce the stigma of seeking help.

And a recently enacted mental health law mandates high standards of treatment for mentally ill patients in Qatar.

But there is no widespread availability of psychiatrists and licensed counselors, a shortage that can be problematic for those with mental health issues.

Online counseling

Nabil lived in Qatar for nine years, before moving in 2012 to Cincinnati in the US, where he trained as a mental health counselor.

“I have always had a keen interest in counseling and supporting people. It just became apparent that that was something I wanted to do,” he said.

After graduation, he set up his own practice, Sam Nabil Counseling Services.

Sam Nabil Counseling

Sam Nabil’s consulting rooms in Cincinnati

Finding success in his new hometown, Nabil decided to expand the firm’s services to expats in Doha, which he described as his “second home.”

Sessions are now being offered via a secure video conferencing portal. They includes one-on-one consultations for life coaching, couples counseling and individual counseling, from thousands of miles away.

“My team can capitalize on the time difference between Cincinnati and Doha” Nabil said. “By the time Doha residents are relaxing at home after work, we are in the middle of our working day and happy to see them.”

Nabil added however that the service is only for those suffering from mild depression, and not for people who might be having suicidal thoughts or for those struggling with substance abuse.

“It would be unethical for me to work with you then,” he said. “You would need constant monitoring.”

‘A different context’

Video conferencing has obvious downsides. Body language can be harder to gauge, for example, and varying internet speeds can cause connectivity issues.

But Nabil said many people in Qatar could benefit from his help.

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Psychiatrists have previously pointed out that expat life puts unique pressures on individuals and couples, which can result in anxiety, depression, disputes and divorce.

“Expats don’t have different problems from other people per se, but the context is quite different,” Nabil said. ” Particularly for western expats, it’s a more alien environment. I feel that’s a big part of it.”

Pressure on marriages

Nabil also told Doha News that in his experience, the biggest pressures on expat marriages are lengthy working hours and the issues surrounding being a so-called “trailing spouse.”

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Sam Nabil

“In Italy, for example, you’d enjoy travel, learn how to cook local food, etc.” he said. “But in Qatar and the GCC in general, the main focus is making as much money as possible and then leaving. So you work extra hard.”

This means, he added, that a non-working spouse may find themselves eating dinner at home alone every night and only really seeing their partner during the weekend.

This feeling is made worse if you had previously contributed financially to the partnership, because it “messes up the equitable dynamic,” he said.

Self-help groups

In Qatar, a number of groups have popped up to provide informal support to those who might feel embarrassed to seek help and residents who feel they don’t need professional attention.

Many expats feeling low or lost in Qatar opt to join social groups, organized around a particular craft, sport or skill, nationality, faith or profession.

via Carole Astin

QEW members on a trip to the desert

One of these is a Facebook page called Qatar Expat Women (QEW), which aims to help women settle into Doha life.

Its founder, Carole Astin, a British expat, battled depression and anxiety after packing up her life in Yorkshire.

Speaking to Doha News last year, one of her group’s members, Clare Jerdan, an Australian expat,  explained how she had felt after her move to Qatar:

“In my country, I was defined by what I did. The transition to just being me as a human being (to) a trailing spouse was very confronting. I scrambled around trying to connect with all sorts of groups, ladies, professionals. I felt completely lost and exposed.”

Where to go to get help

If you or someone you know is in need of psychiatric care in Doha, here is a guide to accessing Hamad Medical Corp.’s Mental Health services.

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The guide says that residents can either be referred by any accredited healthcare professional. They can also self-refer by visiting the Psychiatry Department in person.

In times of emergency, it’s also possible to receive an immediate referral by visiting a HMC ER department.

For those who wish to try online counseling, Nabil’s company charges $300 (QR1,092) per 50-minute session to talk to a qualified, US-registered therapist.

While this is a large sum of money for most expats, the fee is comparable to the cost of private psychiatric care in Qatar, Nabil said.

Thoughts?

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A new startup in Qatar is offering ill residents a chance to see a doctor without even leaving their homes.

The business, which formally launched a few months ago, is the brainchild of Qatar expat Hesham Elfeshawy.

Speaking to Doha News, the Egyptian engineer said he was lying in bed sick one morning when he had a “lightbulb moment.”

At Home Doc

Hesham Elfeshawy

Elfeshawy knew that he needed to see a doctor, but rued having to get up and head to a hospital or polyclinic.

“I felt so bad, and I thought how wonderful it would be if you had an app that you could just click and a doctor would knock on your door,” he recalled to Doha News.

Elfeshawy shared his vision with his twin brother Hatem, a doctor who previously worked in Qatar.

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He had plans to launch a similar business in Australia, where he is now based.

“It’s true that we have a common language,” Hesham Elfeshawy said about his brother. He continued:

“We usually have a shared mental model. I was discussing various business ideas with Hatem and he said he’d registered a home doctor company in the Australia. So we decided to do it at the same time.”

The duo eventually set up At Home Doc together, with Hatem acting as Chief Medical Officer, and Hashem managing the business in Qatar.

Positive reviews

It took the brothers almost two years to register their company locally.

They needed to find a Qatari partner, secure funding and receive full accreditation from authorities to offer medical services.

At Home Doc

The forthcoming At Home Doc website and app

The funding in particular proved to be a challenge. But in February, two Doha-based doctors began seeing patients in their homes for the first time.

Both of these doctors are (coincidentally) also Egyptian, and both are registered to practice medicine in Australia.

“We wanted all of our employees, in Qatar and Australia, to be on the same level, so we focused on them needing Australian accreditation,” Hatem Elfeshawy told Doha News.

“We don’t want our doctors to improvise – we have standard procedures they must all follow.”

How the service works

Plans for Android and Apple apps and a website are in the works, but for now, At Home Doc is operating primarily from a Facebook page and via phone (7772 0807).

Once a patient gets in touch, the company’s office staff ask the on-duty doctor to pay the house call.

At Home Doc charges QR350 per home visit, a fee that Elfeshawy said was on par with rates at private clinics in Doha.

At Home Doc

An At Home Doc payment being processed

Customers pay the doctor for the service via cash or card. At Home Doc provides them with forms so that they can claim the money back from their insurance company, if they have one.

When the doctor visits, he will assess the patient, order any necessary tests and prescribe medication if needed.

Prescribed medication is delivered for free, and if further tests are needed, someone will either come to the house to take blood tests, or the patient can visit a laboratory for further screening.

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Follow-up care or transfers to the hospital can also be arranged.

According to Hatem Elfeshawy, who now travels frequently to Doha, the company aims to be “as responsive as possible.”

The service is open for around 18 hours a day, with doctors sometimes seeing patients as late as 1am.

Positive reviews

Despite the fact that the business is still in its early stages, At Home Doc’s Facebook page has already gotten several five-star reviews.

Many patients, including Afroditi Moschoudi, extolled the speedy response time.

“Pleasantly surprised by the customer service, level of response and great visiting doctor who took time and care to examine an entire family down with bad flu,” she said.

At Home Doc

At Home Doc office staff

So far, about three to five patients are reaching out to the company a day, via Facebook and phone.

At Home Doc has also been approached by a number of hotels to provide consultations for tourists.

Plans are now afoot to expand the business in Qatar and other Gulf countries.

Service with a smile

According to Hatem Elfeshawy, what sets his company apart from other private medical providers in Qatar is its focus on customer service and competitive pricing.

“We don’t have assets and labs that we need to return of investment on,” he told Doha News. “We only refer patients to labs when it is required, we don’t require extra examinations when they are not required. We don’t abuse insurance providers and we don’t abuse patients.”

He also emphasized that he is keen on his company’s doctors adhering to best medical practices. This includes only prescribing antibiotics where they are necessary, he added.

At Home Doc

Dr. Hatem Elfeshawy

“I would rather spend 30 minutes talking to the patient and their relatives about how something is viral and how antibiotics won’t work, than do a five-minute visit and give antibiotics, as many people might do,” he said.

Thoughts?