GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Public Health Education in the GCC: Institutions, Innovation and Interactions with the Global Community
Paper Proposal Text :
In the last four decades, the GCC states have seen rapid development along with increase in life expectancy, decrease in maternal and infant mortality and overall improvements in the quality of life of its citizens1. This has been done, in part by urbanization, creation of new and state-of-the-art hospitals and substantial improvement in water sanitation. That said, new challenges, associated with high impact chronic diseases, in particular diabetes, obesity, cancer, cardiovascular ailments and challenges in mental health have posed new problems for the GCC states that require a rethinking of the public health systems in place2. In some of these diseases, particularly diabetes and cancer, the incidence in GCC is among the highest in the world3. Therefore addressing public health challenges requires not only change in policies but also creation of new institutions that train the workforce and create domestic research and technical capacity to meet these new challenges.
The public health system within the GCC is complex and multi-faceted. First, it is important to note that the problems faced by GCC nations in public health are both universal (e.g. infectious diseases in the neighborhood and high rates of chronic ailments) and unique (due to socio-cultural and genetic basis of the population) at the same time. This requires the need for research and collaboration within the GCC and with experts from elsewhere.
The second facet of the public health system is limited local capacity of GCC states in health. Currently, the hospitals are staffed in large numbers by medical professional from non-GCC countries including the Indian sub-continent, Eastern Europe, UK and the United States, thereby emphasizing the need for new programs in educating and training the local population.
Third, recent growth within the region in research and innovation, through establishment of multiple new universities, increased financial support for existing institutions and an increasingly high emphasis on research has started to influence the public health sector. Multiple institutions are focusing on public health problems, new medical schools are being established and expectations for publications in high impact journals is increasing4. As a result, researchers from the GCC nations are now contributing to, and collaborating with, new partners in the US, EU and other nations including nations in Africa. This interaction, that was previously limited, is now leading to joint publications, new conferences (such as World Innovation Summit for Health in Doha)5 and establishment of new research journals (such as “Innovations in Global Health )6 that focus on the high impact problems of the region with an eye towards addressing similar questions in other parts of the world.
Finally, the establishment of new departments and institutes has the potential for creating virtual and real opportunities for researcher and student mobility. At the same time, openness, transparency and interactions with researchers from other nations and regions have started to impact policy. The establishment of new researcher units, in previously opaque development and aid agencies is one such example. The UAE aid agency that has engaged in public health in Asia and Africa, has created a Ministry of International Cooperation and Development (MICAD) in March 2013, modeled after the Department for International Development (UK) and US Agency for International Development (USAID). 7
In the light of the multi-faceted nature of public health within GCC, this paper will focus on the role of (new and existing) higher education institutions within the GCC and in Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia in particular to examine three questions:

1) How has the mandate and the vision of public health training institutions changed in the last decade with emergence of new local (such as MERS) and global (such as H1N1 and Ebola) health crises? Are these institutions now more focused on research or training and how do the investments in public health education and training compare with other areas such as engineering. Also, are the schools of public health informing health policy at the national or the regional level. We will examine recent cases of MERS and Ebola, as well as growing rates of diabetes in the GCC in this section.

2) Is there a model of public health education that is unique to the GCC? What are some of the major bottlenecks in creating robust public health education programs within the GCC? Is it lack of interest on part of students or job prospects? Or have the institutions been reluctant to introduce programs that challenge social norms such as STDs, infectious diseases and diseases that are common in the migrant populations? We will examine the tension between broad-based public health education and the evolution in conservative views on health, aid and infectious diseases in this section.

3) What is the role of innovation, both in curriculum and in research, among public health education institutions. What is the level of collaboration, for example, between the school of public health and the school of engineering, and what are institutional challenges in creating multi-disciplinary programs. We will examine how collaboration (or lack thereof) between various institutions both within and outside GCC is shaping the landscape of public health education in the region.
A comprehensive understanding of the future role of Gulf nations in higher education would be incomplete without an analysis of the role of local institutions in the grand challenges of our time. Among the most important challenges facing the world today is better health and better management of infectious and chronic diseases. While the question itself may be specific to the domains of medicine and public health, it impacts a wide spectrum of areas from research and innovation to researcher mobility, economics and foreign relations.
1. Cleveland et al, “A history of the modern Middle East”. 2004. Westview Press, Boulder, USA.
2. World Health Organization, “Global status report on noncommunicable diseases”, WHO, 2010,
3. Rory Jones, “Diabetes Epidemic Hits Persian Gulf Region, Wall Street Journal, February 10, 2014, accessed February 12, 2014,
4. Chouchane et al, “Medical education and research environment in Qatar: a new epoch for translational research in the Middle East”. Journal of Translational Medicine, 2011, 9: 16.
7. United Arab Emirates Ministry of International Cooperation And Development,