UAE Free of Thalassemia by 2012

Dr Mariam Mattar

Photo by: Karl Jeffs/Gulf News – Dr Mariam is the first woman to become Undersecretary at the Ministry of Health.

Efforts to empower UAE nationals

Dubai: A new authority under the Dubai government was recently set up to act as an umbrella for social service organisations and was also tasked with promoting national identity and empowering UAE nationals.

Gulf News spoke to Dr Mariam, Director General of the Community Development Authority (CDA), about the authority’s plans and challenges ahead.

Gulf News: What is the objective of CDA?

Dr Mariam: CDA was launched to develop a framework for social development in line with the social objectives of the Dubai government as highlighted in the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015.

Through specialised entities, we aim to create a strong social safety net for everyone living in Dubai and enhance social cohesion between different nationalities and groups as well as promote our national identity.

Our objectives are to encourage social cohesion, social inclusion and social protection, to promote the national identity, and to empower nationals.

We would like to become the umbrella organisation for social service organisations and be able to come up with a legal framework under which these organisations would fall.

It has come to our attention that many social service organisations in the UAE are not licensed and we would organise the sector better by coming up with additional guidelines.

As you know, some of the accusations that the UAE face are lack of data and credible sources [to back them up]. We have been emphasising [becoming a source of data on Dubai] from day one.

The Dubai Statistics Centre has helped with this …

But we didn’t rely on the centre alone. Our research and strategy department has specialists in social studies and social analysis … [to] help us work with some of the social trends.

We [plan] to have an annual report … but a lot of it relies on surveys that will be conducted and help us assess the needs of every individual resident in Dubai according to geographical locations. The services resulting from that will be tailored to individual needs.

How significant a role is CDA going to be playing?

Ours is a monitoring and policy related role. We don’t devise new policies but enforce and renew current policies in Dubai that help us implement our objectives. As for the federal level, we coordinate with [federal bodies] to enforce the federal laws that weren’t being enforced previously …

We … provide services based on studies [on future] social requirements and how the different bodies in Dubai can cooperate to fulfil the requirements, whether it is legal, administrative, security-related or financial.

It was mentioned with the launch of the programme that CDA would be tasked with strengthening the national identity. Is the establishment of an official body with that objective indicative of a realisation that there’s a problem?

I wouldn’t call it a problem. Let’s say that there are some needs and we as the government are fulfilling these.

The media often says there is a need to preserve or protect the national identity. The national identity doesn’t need protection because it is here and so are the nationals, the natives of this country?

Our objective is to promote national identity, to ensure that the UAE national is distinguishable and noticeable. …

We at the authority ensure that the national identity is visible in society. This is not just about how we cook, eat or dance, or our portrayal in the media. We emphasise empowering Emiratis in Dubai with skills and expertise to allow them to compete and contribute in the development of society on par with non-nationals.

We’ve had more than a workshop and brainstorming session with all types of [people], … and found mainly that many Emiratis need support to be able to participate in the fierce competition [for work in Dubai]. And we can help – whether through enabling them to speak a global language, teach them skills, and help them … communicate with [other cultures].

How do you expect to deal with some of the concerns UAE nationals have about the rapidly changing population make-up of the UAE that is making them a minority?

We are working on research about the social needs of Dubai’s population … The mere presence of expatriates here who are specialised in their fields reflects positively on the development of society. Their presence here is of a consultative nature and we need to utilise [their expertise] to [learn from them].

I’m not denying that some Emiratis might feel that expatriates are given priority. But we at the CDA take note of these observations. [Our] survey will give the respondent the chance to [express their views on these issues].

What role does the Arabic language play in the Emirati identity at a time when it is seemingly being phased out in education and in some government entities?

The Arabic language is one of the [basic] elements of Emirati identity and we are trying to promote Arabic to non-nationals. There will be a number of initiatives from CDA to preserve the language and promote it. The programme will focus on three levels – legislation, auditing and service levels.

‘It is important to push for change’

Dubai: When Gulf News asked Dr Mariam Mattar why she would be the most suitable person to head the Community Development Authority (CDA), she spoke of a personal experience that made her feel an obligation to contribute to society.

“In 1999, two weeks before my final year exams at Rashid Hospital, a tragedy hit my family, and me particularly. I lost my beloved father to artery block, something that could have been prevented with proper medical care. Back then, I decided not to take my exams, however, everyone at Rashid Hospital gathered to show me support and reminded me of the impact that family physicians have on the individuals and communities they treat.

“The death of my father was a turning point in my life following which I discovered the importance of taking the initiative and pushing for change on all levels, mostly at individual but also social, political and regulatory [levels].”

Health care: Leading woman

  • Dr Mariam is the first woman to become Undersecretary at the Ministry of Health, where she supervised initiatives designed to make primary health care available to the biggest share of population in the northern emirates.
  • In 2005, Dr Mariam was the leader of the executive team dedicated to research key social development issues described in the “Dubai Strategic Plan 2008-2015”.
  • She is the founder and executive director of two non-government and non-profit organisations – the UAE Down’s Syndrome Association and the UAE Genetic Diseases Association.
  • Dr Mariam initiated many community programmes such as “UAE Free of Thalassemia by 2012”, and the “Wellness Centre”.
  • She graduated from Dubai Medical College in 1999 as top of her class and specialised in community medicine.

I just wish we had such expectations for Pakistani Thalassemic Patients as well.. I just wish.. sigh.

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