Health & Education

Consider The Diagnosis

Medical Research

Since 2006, Qatar has pledged to spend 2.8% of its annual GDP (which amounts to approximately $6 billion a year) on funding for science and research. Health and life sciences […]

Since 2006, Qatar has pledged to spend 2.8% of its annual GDP (which amounts to approximately $6 billion a year) on funding for science and research. Health and life sciences research are amongst the priorities given, since Qatar suffers from health issues such as diabetes and infant mortality, similar to neighboring Gulf countries.

Qatar unveiled its first National Health Strategy (NHS), which covers the next five years and includes a plan to launch a new national governance body to better manage resources and projects across the various biomedical centers in the small Persian Gulf state. The newly proposed Qatar Medical Research Council (QMRC) will be based in Doha and will be responsible for coordinating research efforts between institutions and communicating the scientific outcomes to policymakers.

This funding will be disbursed through the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, the semi-private organization that drew up the national science strategy, and disburses the funds for the research through the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) and attendant research institutes.

Qatar revealed its first National Health Strategy (NHS) in 2011, a five-year plan which will include support for research in the biomedical field. The NHS and associated research funding will be managed by the newly-established Qatar Medical Research Council (QMRC) based in Doha, which will coordinate research efforts between institutions and relate the research outcomes to policymakers.

The head of the Qatar Foundation says the key areas of focus in health research are issues that are relevant to Qatari health and illnesses prevalent in the region. That means diabetes, hypertension and cancer are top priorities, as is developing technologies and treatments for personalized medicine. There is also a high level of concern about the relatively high infant mortality rate in Qatar, early-term miscarriage and neural tube defects, issues addressing the health of women and children.

Two major institutes have already been established in Qatar doing ground-breaking medical research: these include the Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI), which was established to develop biomedical research and biotechnology, focusing on diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases. The other is the Research Branch of the Sidra Medical and Research Center, which serves as a hub for biomedical research in Qatar. Its aim is to advance the understanding of epidemiology and mechanisms of diseases, develop preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic tools, and improve the health outcomes of the women and children of Qatar.

There is also the Qatar Biobank, whose job is to collate biological samples and health data to enable medical research on the health issues prevailing in Qatar, and to improve the status of people’s health here. This will be managed by studying both the genetic and environmental factors that affect Qatar’s population. The Biobank works with the Supreme Council of Health, Hamad Medical Corporation, and scientists from Imperial College London. The pilot phase collected health information and biological samples from the Qatari population began in 2012, and 1,800 people—Qatari citizens and long-term residents—participated. The aim is to record the health information of 60,000 people, the largest population-based health initiative ever undertaken in Qatar, and would represent the majority of Qatar’s adult population.

Then there is the Qatar Genome project, launched by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation, in December 2013, and will aim at full sequencing of the DNA of all the 600,000 who are participants in the Biobank.

All these efforts outline an optimistic future for Qatar’s venture into medical research, although the seeds planted may take years to come to fruit.

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