Your Middle East
Last updated: 8 December, 2013

5 health threats facing the Middle East

What effects might a civil war have on a population's mental health? And how far gone is the issue of obesity across Middle Eastern countries? These are some of the public health issues the region has to deal with today.

”The region was polio-free for 10 years, until a Pakistani strain was detected in sewers in Egypt in January. It has since been found in sewers in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Last month (October), 10 paralyzed children in Syria were confirmed to be polio victims.”

– Donald McNeil Jr. for The New York Times

“The virus is unforgiving – both what it does to kids and what it does to epidemiologists trying to stop it.”

– Dr. Bruce Aylward, the World Health Organization’s assistant director-general for polio, emergencies and country collaboration

Mental illness
“In the Middle East there is a large number of displaced people, mostly refugees and people who have endured military conflicts and wars. This population is especially at risk, particularly for posttraumatic stress disorder. Another large at-risk population in the Gulf region is the population of expatriates, mostly blue-collar workers and domestic maids who leave their countries of origin and come to work in GCC countries under sometimes less than optimal conditions.”

Ziad Kronfol, a psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, talking to Nature Middle East

“In the case of North Africa/Middle East, conflict in the region increased the prevalence of depression, leading to a higher burden ranking.”

Alize Ferrari, researcher at Australia’s University of Queensland

Obesity and diabetes
”In Egypt, half of all women are obese and one fifth of all men – landing them in the global top 20 for obesity. Among women, Kuwait ranks second globally with 55.2 per cent of its female population considered obese. Other Middle Eastern countries which made it to the Global Top 20 for female obesity include the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (42.0 percent), Bahrain (37.9 percent), and Jordan (37.9 percent).”

– Amina Semlali for Al Jazeera

”Diabetes is skyrocketing in the Middle East and North Africa, rising 87% between 1990 and 2012.”

– Kyu Rhee, Chief Health Officer IBM

”The incidence of breast cancer is on the rise in the Middle East and North Africa. It also appears in Arab women on average at least 10 years earlier than it does in women in Europe or the United States. Additionally, when the disease is first discovered, Arab women are found to have a more advanced stage of the disease with larger tumours.”

– Aisha El-Awady, science writer

“Arabic used to once be a language of sex…(but) there’s so little sexual education in schools that people don’t know that there is another arabic in which you could talk about these matters.”

– Shereen El Feki, author of ”Sex and the Citadel”

“Today people in Iran are frightened of Aids because of misinformation and unscientific claims. This is why it remains a taboo… There has been a ninefold growth in the number of people with Aids in the past 11 years and an 80% increase each year.”

– Hassan Hashemi, Iran’s health minister