Arthritis is a condition that many of us readily associate with the elderly – grannies with sore hands or great uncles with dodgy hips. This, however, is one of many misconceptions that Emirates Arthritis Foundation is hoping to dispel this month. It is organising a series of events aimed at raising awareness about a condition that is thought to affect 20 per cent of the world’s population, both young and old.
It seems that here in the UAE there are specific difficulties in diagnosing and treating the disease. For example, in 2006, the average amount of time it took to diagnose arthritis in a patient was two years. ‘Some patients don’t go to the doctors quickly enough,’ says EAF patient support director Katrina Thornely. ‘Another reason is that GPs don’t necessarily recognise the symptoms of arthritis, which can be as simple as prolonged fatigue. Here in Dubai, people seem to be inclined to go to straight to a specialist [when they have a problem], so someone who has a problem with their knee, for example, will go to an orthopaedic doctor, who will keep them as their own patient, rather than referring them to a rheumatologist.’
As such, a large part of this month’s campaign will focus on raising awareness among professionals, as well as the public. ‘We’re about to start a nurse education programme,’ says Katrina. ‘We’ve tried to do workshops with doctors, but they’re often like, “We know everything already – we don’t need to learn anything more!”’
It seems the nurses are much more responsive; a plus point considering they are the ones who spend most time with the patients. ‘When you’re told you have a chronic disease and you’ve got it for life, it can be very traumatising,’ explains Katrina. ‘What we’re trying to do is help patients emotionally, and training nurses to do the same.’
The EAF is working with the Emirates Society of Rheumatologists to lobby insurance companies to change their policy regarding arthritis sufferers. The big issue is that trying to get medical insurance for what is often a pre-existing condition is near impossible. Katrina says this is a very UAE-specific problem, namely because of the population’s transience. ‘Many other countries have social security and benefits – more social structure. Here, insurance companies see that people are here for just two or three years and think that if they pay for expensive medication, people will just leave.’
The EAF and ESR hope that insurance companies will begin to understand why they should extend their cover to arthritis sufferers: if people can get the right medication, they can go to work. If they can’t, they’ll leave the country and the insurance companies will lose a customer. Simple. At least, it should be. Katrina concedes they still have a lot of work to do.
However, progress is being made. Since the organisation was formed four years ago, EAF has already seen very positive results from its work, with the delay in diagnosis having been reduced to 18 months. ‘If we can do this every three years,’ says Katrina, ‘that would be amazing.’
The EAF events programme runs throughout October. For info, see www.arthritis.ae
Arthritis: the facts
There are more than 100 types of arthritis, which fall into two categories: osteoporosis and autoimmune arthritis. The former is limited to joints and occurs as a result of day-to-day wear and old age. The latter, however, occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the joints and other organs such as the kidneys.
• Autoimmune arthritis is not hereditary; rather it is a genetic disposition that can be triggered at any time.
• Osteoporosis can be caused by old age, bad diet – obesity can put more strain on joints – and modern hectic lifestyles.
Pineapples are the best natural remedy for arthritis. The fruit contains bromelain, an enzyme that can help to reduce the inflammation associated with the disease.