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There are no cases of Zika virus in Qatar, the country’s Ministry of Public Health (MPH) has said following a rare decision by the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the virus an international public health emergency.

WHO’s decision to classify Zika as such will send more funding and resources into researching the mosquito-borne virus, which is being linked to birth defects such as babies being born with unusually small heads (microcephaly).

However, WHO said there was currently “no public health justification for restrictions on travel or trade.”

In a statement, Qatar’s public ministry said while the type of mosquito that transmits the virus is not native to this country, the health sector is on alert for any suspected cases among returning travelers.

It added:

“Public Health advises all residents to postpone non-essential travel to the 24 affected countries; in particular women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant in the near future should consider delaying travel to areas with Zika virus present.”

Caution was also warned by Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs this week, who tweeted that citizens in the region should take care to avoid getting the virus.

Spreading quickly

The virus was first detected in Brazil in May this year, which now has nearly 4,000 cases of microcephaly, and has spread throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

Last week, WHO said the virus was “spreading explosively” in the Americas and may infect up to four million people.

WHO director-general Margaret Chan

WHO

WHO director-general Margaret Chan

Yesterday, WHO director-general Margaret Chan told reporters at a news conference in Geneva that the link between Zika and microcephaly is “strongly suspected, though not yet scientifically proven.”

“All agreed on the urgent need to coordinate international efforts to investigate and understand this relationship better…

A coordinated international response is needed to improve surveillance, the detection of infections, congenital malformations, and neurological complications, to intensify the control of mosquito populations, and to expedite the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines to protect people at risk, especially during pregnancy,” Chan added.

Restrict travel

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has rated the affected countries at level 2 (practice enhanced precautions) on its list of virus travel alerts.

Last week, it added United States Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic. Other affected countries are:

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; Barbados; Bolivia; Brazil; Cape Verde; Colombia; Ecuador; El Salvador; French Guiana; Guadeloupe; Guatemala; Guyana; Haiti; Honduras; Martinique; Mexico; Panama; Paraguay; Saint Martin; Samoa; Suriname; and Venezuela.

For Brazil, which is hosting the Olympic games this summer, the repercussions of travel restrictions are potentially significant.

The Zika virus is transmitted to people mostly by the Aedes aegypti mosquito in tropical regions.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Claus Rebler/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache, MPH said.

Transmitted by mosquitoes which are mostly active during daytime, the MPH cautioned travelers who make be visiting affected areas to “continue to take protective measures to prevent mosquito bites throughout the day.”

Precautions include the need to:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers;
  • Use insect repellents;
  • Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, trousers, socks, and tents);
  • Use bed nets as necessary; and
  • Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms.

All suspected cases should be notified to Health Protection and CDC Hotline numbers 6674 0948 or 6674 0951.

Thoughts?

Qatar’s health council launches new medicine information site

An online database with details on 4,800 medicines available in Qatar was launched yesterday by the Supreme Council of Health (SCH).

The Qatar National Formulary website can be used by medical staff and the public to access information on drugs, including what they are used for, how to store them and potential side effects. There is also a facility to report adverse reactions to medication as well as the latest drug announcements.

 

Acupuncture

Lars Ploughmann/Flickr

Acupuncture

After several years of debate, Qatar authorities have approved of the practice of homeopathy, ayurvedic medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic treatments and hijama (wet cupping) in the country.

However, only those who are licensed to offer such treatments will now be allowed to operate in the country.

According to QNA,  the Qatar Council for Healthcare Practitioners (QCHP) will regulate such practices.

Speaking about the move, officials stressed that the treatments would be used to supplement traditional medical care, not replace it.

In a statement, QCHP’s acting chief executive Dr. Samar Aboulsoud said:

“The concept of ‘complementary’ medicine will be adopted rather than ‘alternative and complementary medicine’ to guarantee that patients will receive complementary treatment in addition to conventional medical treatment.”

While receiving alternative treatments was not previously illegal in Qatar, practitioners were not officially recognized or licensed by the state.

At least at first, licenses will be limited to those practicing homeopathy, ayurveda, acupuncture, chiropractic and hijama, the Arabic practice of wet-cupping.

Licensed and regulated

Under the new regulations, which have been approved by the QCHP board and are set to come into force early this year, only qualified practitioners will be issued a medical license to practice in the country, the council said.

Practitioners will now need to register with the QCHP to get a license before they can operate, but there will be a grace period for them to sort out the necessary paperwork.

Chiropractic treatment

Michael Dorausch/Flickr

Chiropractic treatment

Complementary and alternative medicines are gaining in popularity in Qatar and plans to regulate practitioners have been in the works for years.

In 2010, an official from the Supreme Council of Health (SCH) told the Peninsula that the authority was preparing new policies to include them, and that “the proposed plan would come up for the consideration of the Permanent Licensing Committee very soon.”

Three years later, Dr. Jamal Rashid Al Khanji, Director of the Medical Licensing Department at SCH, admitted that it was taking some time to sort out a system.

“Compared to conventional medicine, it is more difficult to regulate the practice of alternative medicine. In the absence of clear rules and standards, fake medicines and fake practitioners can enter the industry posing a threat to public health. The new law is intended to prevent such dangers,” Al Khanji added.

Speaking this week, Aboulsoud said authorities had spent time investigating the safety and efficacy of the complementary medicine practices proposed for regulation.

“The regulation of Complementary Medicine by QCHP has been one of the decisions long-awaited by the public in Qatar. However, as our main concern is always patient safety, we wanted to assess the impact of this decision before beginning the official implementation,” he added.

Prior to getting the sign-off, the QCHP board set up an advisory committee to “measure the scientific impact and provide facts and figures in relation to its usage and impact within the country,” according to the statement.

Controversy

The practice of some complementary and alternative medicines such as homeopathy can be controversial.

Homeopathy works on the principle of “like cures like” and uses highly diluted versions of a substance that causes illness in order to treat an ailment.

Homeopathic remedy

Philippa Willitts/Flickr

Homeopathic remedy

So, for example, a pill containing a dilution of a blade of grass could be used as a hay fever remedy.

Many in the medical professional say there is no scientific evidence to prove that homeopathy works.

The US Department of Health and Human Services states: “There is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific condition” and “Several key concepts of homeopathy are inconsistent with fundamental concepts of chemistry and physics. There are significant challenges in carrying out rigorous clinical research on homeopathic remedies.”

It also warned that some products labeled as homeopathic include active substances which can cause drug interactions and side effects.

However, supporters including practitioners and patients say that treatments have and do work.

In Qatar, a significant number of people seek alternative and complementary therapies.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

According to a study undertaken by researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and in Qatar that was published by the World Health Organization’s Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal in 2014, more than a third of middle-aged Arab women living here had sought such treatments in the past year.

The survey of 841 women aged 40 to 60 years old, who were Qatari and other Arab nationalities, found that nearly one in four had used a “Complementary or Alternative Medicine” (CAM) such as a special diet, herbal remedies, physical treatments like acupuncture and massage, homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, meditation or folk medicine in the past 12 months.

“Often patients do not tell their doctors about their use of CAM and doctors also often do not ask specifically about non-medicinal or non-conventional therapies.

“We believe it is important to educate and inform patients and providers about the benefits and limitations associated with CAM,” author Dr. Linda M. Gerber, professor of healthcare policy and research at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, said in statement.

The therapies

Other alternative treatments, such as chiropractic care, focus on disorders of the musculoskeletal system and the nervous system, and the effects of these disorders on general health.

Such treatments can be used to treat back pain, neck pain, pain in the joints of the arms or legs, and headaches, according to the American Chiropractic Association.

Meanwhile, acupuncture is derived from ancient Chinese medicine in which fine needles are inserted into the skin at key points, for therapeutic or preventative purposes.

Ayurveda was developed in India and is a holistic (whole body) system which believes in linking the mind, body and spirit for health and wellness.

And hijama is a traditional Arabic method of “wet cupping,” where a small incision is made in the skin, and blood is drawn by vacuum for therapeutic purposes.

Thoughts?