Tackling Rheumatic Diseases Awareness in the Middle East

Specialists from 14 Arab Countries Launch Initiative to Educate and Prevent Delayed Diagnoses

Most people experience bone and muscle pain at a point during their adult life. The first idea that may come to their minds would certainly be a visit to an orthopedic (a bone doctor). But what if they are directed to the wrong doctor? It would mean more months or years of misdiagnosis and mistreatment, along with the accompanying frustration, pain and expenses.

Could some kinds of bone and muscle pain require treatment by other specialists?

Yes. There is a subspecialty of internal medicine that also deals with your musculoskeletal system: rheumatology.

This confusion moved a group of Arab rheumatologists to launch an initiative that would help spread awareness, inform the public about their specialization, and answer the most-asked questions.

The Arab Adult Arthritis Awareness Group (AAAA) launched under the umbrella Arab League of Association for Rheumatology (ArLAR) to raise awareness of rheumatic diseases and improve the health of patients affected by the disease.

"Our initiative aims to deliver information about rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases in Arabic, English, and French to the Arab public and beyond," Dr Lina El-Kibbi, Saudi-based Consultant Rheumatologist and Assistant Professor of Rheumatology in King Faisal University, told Majalla.

"16 rheumatologists representing 14 Arab countries are participating in the special interest group to address questions and enquiries about rheumatic diseases on our websites and social media," says Dr Kibbi who co-founded the group with Dr Hussein Halabi, Director of Academic and Training Affairs in King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Jeddah. These Arab countries involved are KSA, Kuwait, UAE, Jordan, Qatar, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Algeria, Tunisia, Iraq, Morocco, Oman, and Syria.

On October 28, 2020, the AAAA launched a campaign called 'Be yourself'.   They have delivered several webinars, and have planned similar events on February 15 and throughout the Spring.


"Each webinar has a unique theme which compliments the main theme of 'Be Yourself'; they are all aimed at patients and the public," Dr Kibbi said.

Along with dispelling misconceptions about rheumatic diseases, the webinars focus on the patient's quality of life. They address the importance of taking medication and highlight the close relationship between sports and alleviating pain. Other lectures discuss the link between food and rheumatic diseases, and how simple lifestyle changes can help patients.

"Speakers are rheumatologists who are members of the AAAA group. We also tend to invite guest speakers from life coaches and clinical dietitians to fitness instructors, Yoga specialists, and Tai chi specialists," she adds.

The webinars are streamed live on their social media platforms and through a zoom link that patients receive after they register for free.

The group made two announcements this month. The first was to declare February a month to unify awareness campaigns about rheumatic diseases in the Arab region. The second involved establishing the February 1 as an official National Rheumatologist Day in the participating Arab countries.

Dr Kibbi explained that it was essential to initiate a National Rheumatologist Day in the Arab region to educate the public on what a rheumatologist is and when to seek help. "Rheumatologists are highly skilled doctors trained to diagnose, manage and treat adult arthritis and rheumatic diseases," she added.

In an attempt to solve the common problem of delayed diagnosis, Dr Kibbi encouraged people to visit a rheumatology clinic "when experiencing any joint pains that don't correlate with past trauma." 

Dr Kibbi affirmed that early diagnosis and timely and correct treatment would spare the patients further complications.

In addition to publications, videos, and research released by the group on COVID 19 and rheumatic diseases, Dr Kibbi says the AAAA will launch a mobile app on March 8, 2021, marking the initiative's first anniversary. The app will offer more services for patients in the Arab world.