Get People in Research to Tackle Challenges

Experts say focus must shift to participatory community research to eradicate the root cause of issues like smoking among children, obesity and diabetes

By Afshan Ahmed

Published: Tue 12 Jan 2010, 12:44 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 3:08 AM

DUBAI – It is common knowledge that children as young as 10 years smoke, that the UAE has the second highest prevalence of diabetes and that obesity is the main health concern in the community.

To a certain extent, research identifies why such health issues occur but experts believe more emphasis must be given to participatory community research to eradicate the root cause of such issues. Research must move away from big numbers to action in the field.

“The nature of public health research as a discipline is practice, so research needs to be focused on something that we can do something about,” said Dr Rima Afifi, associate professor of Health Behaviour and Education, Faculty of Health Sciences at the American University of Beirut.

“If someone just tells me that the incidence of smoking among children is high, and I don’t know why, then I cannot do anything about it. I cannot change the situation,” she said.

Afifi’s was one of the lecturers at the Global Health and the UAE, Asia-Middle East Connections Forum convened at the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) last week. Her topic of discussion was the determinants of mental health among Palestinian refugee youth in Lebanon — an intervention-based research programme that began in 2008 and went on for a year.

Researchers intervened with workshops and techniques to improve the mental health of children and develop a sustainable long-term solution for the families.

“At all stages, the research was participatory, so the decisions on how to move forward were taken by the community,” Afifi said.

“So as researchers, our role was to produce scientific evidence and the community gave us the practice evidence.”

Dr. Mohamed Yousif Hasan Baniyas, interim dean of Medicine and Health Sciences at the UAEU, said effective research does not end with finding out the facts.

“It is not a one-step process,” Baniyas said.

“It starts with a question and then you evaluate the data and compare it with other international data — address the differences and see how you can tackle the situation.”

According to him, collaboration among researchers from around the world and within disciplines was the key to healthcare solutions.

“Quality research requires collaboration, otherwise it will be a small fact-finding process and will be incomplete,” Baniyas said.

The questions that are asked and the ‘whys’ that need to be answered is the ‘ammunition’ to tackle problems, said Afifi. “Understanding the reasons determines the intervention that is required. Once that is known — like, for example, in smoking among the youth — they have got to be a part of the strategy.”

Tobacco Control Inside and Outside China was a topic raised by Dr. Matthew Kohrman, associate professor of Anthropology at Stanford University, who believes that mapping global health problems does not help if they are socially disconnected from the community.

“There needs to be grassroot mobilisation and collective action,” Kohrman said.

With various studies establishing facts on diabetes, mental illness and genetic disorders, the next step would be to expand on the data. Baniyas said that would mean moving from a sample of research to the larger community.

“In the case of diabetes, preliminary data has been published in scientific journals indicating it is a major concern in the UAE,” Baniyas said.

“This is right now based on samples but it has to move on to represent the entire population, looking at factors that contribute to it, analyse the current healthcare system and preventive mechanisms and future action on how to treat it.”

It would require a multidisciplinary approach and cooperation among various organisations. “It is a complex system and eventually research should result in the implementation and monitoring of the recommended solutions,” he said.

Convincing sponsors to fund such research can be a challenge though, said Afifi. “In community-based research, you do not know what the community wants to work on and it is also long term,” Afifi said.

Thus, conducting research with cooperation from experts from different fields analysing different aspects provides a benefit. “Each expert comes with his/her own understanding, so everybody has a piece of the puzzle that results in the best policy,” she said.

With the aim of developing a base for collaboration among scholars and medical practitioners, a research institute will be developed by UAEU that will govern all data and help understand the magnitude of healthcare problems and causes while working towards results. The university has also developed two grants for researchers to undertake studies pertaining to the UAE and global health issues.

“Collaboration and intervention are key to addressing the health challenges. People can not only share human expertise, they share technology, compare results which leads to lower research costs as well,” Baniyas said.


AUS Welcomes 350 Freshmen

SHARJAH— About 350 high school students turned out for orientation at the American University of Sharjah (AUS) this week. Dr. Thomas Hochstettler, Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs, during a welcome session held for the students and their parents at the university during the weekend, said their courses beginning in Spring Semester would be challenging but they had the grades to meet the requirements.

“Almost all of you come from the top 20 per cent of your high school classes,” he said.

“Your average high school grades as a group is 92 per cent. Your TOEFL scores are also very good, with about 70 per cent of you scoring over 550 on the exam.”

The coming orientation week will include academic and non-academic activities, placement tests, leisure activities and course registration.

It will also include general presentations on the university’s academic rules and regulations, campus tours, special student receptions, movies and trips to Sharjah and Dubai.

Students were urged to make the most of the university’s multicultural campus environment — with almost 80 different nationalities. “The friendships you make here will last you a lifetime,” he said.



Want to be a Lawyer?

Need to decide where to study or what tests to take?

This week learn about studying law in the US, courtesy the Intelligent Partners, Dubai.

The study of law in the US is unlike that in most countries. Apart from specific requirements, it’s also far more participatory and requires good comprehension and research skills.

There is no undergraduate law degree in the US and students cannot study law without completing an undergraduate degree. The LLB programme is a three-year graduate degree called Juris Doctor (J.D.) and requires three years of study.

J.D involves courses in American common and statute law as well as international and business law. To practice Law in the US one needs to study J.D.

In other countries, the Common Law programme is applicable where a Bachelor of Laws degree is generally entered after the conclusion of secondary school.

To practice law in the US, foreign law graduates or Common Law Graduates must join the J.D programme and can then practice law directly or apply for their Masters Degree (LLM). For those students who have completed a five-year Bachelors of law in the common law countries can directly enter the LLM programme and write their Bar Council examinations if they wish to practice.

The average cost of studying Law in the US ranges between $16,000- $58,000, inclusive of tuition fee, living, accommodation and other miscellaneous expenses.


  • An undergraduate or post graduate study equivalent
  • Law Schools Admissions Test (LSAT) score – for J.D applicants
  • Atleast 3 recommendation letters, statement of purpose and a resume

For more details: for additional enquiries that will be answered by Director, Sanjeev Verma.


Witch and Wizard by James Patterson

Movie and books in 2009 were tailored to take you beyond you wildest imaginations.

James Patterson, best known for his investigative series with Alex Cross, gives the detective a rest and dabbles in the supernatural genre in his yearend offering, Witch and Wizard. It has been co-authored by Gabrielle Charbonnet.

Set in the era of a totalitarian government uprising, Wisty and older brother Whit must discover powers within and master the skills of wizardry and witchcraft while in prison to save themselves, their parents and even the world.


Is the Netbook Over and Out?

Stuck between a rock and a hard place — the rock being the still-evolving smartphone and the hard place being the emerging tablet computer — the netbook computer would seem to be doomed.

The netbook, which rose to great popularity only about a year ago, may, in fact, become the victim of the technology that helped create such a small computer. Ultra-thin machines now offer more power in much lighter packages, smartphones with increased Web functionality and more sophisticated processors will eclipse the netbook’s rather limited abilities, and the tablet computer is likely waiting in the wings from companies like Dell and Apple.

In fact, Apple has booked the San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Centre on January 28 for a “major product announcement” without amplifying on details.

Another crucial factor: the cost of netbooks is inching up, bringing their price close to those of fully functional notebooks.

“It’s the Internet’s fault for making us much more multimedia savvy,” Stuart Miles, founder and editor of technology blog Pocket Lint, told BBC. Uploading and editing photos or motion video requires more power than the basic netbook offers, he said.

Going forward, many observers believe that machines — phones in particular — will be less generic, and more tailored for specific functions, such as access to social media. “It’s no surprise that your mobile has changed a lot in the last three years but your PC hasn’t,” Ian Drew, spokesman for chip designer Arm, told BBC. The short-term “will be a lot of different machines for a lot of different people”, he said, Look for some clues to the PC future next week... on this blog.

Stephen Williams blogs @Gadgetwise in New York Times

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