More than 200,000 people in the UAE suffer from an unsightly skin condition, and almost 8,000 more are affected by it every year.
The disease, psoriasis, is estimated to affect two per cent of the world’s population. The prevalence in the UAE is more than double that, however, at 4.3 per cent.
The reason, according to Dr Wesam Kadhum, a dermatologist at Gulf Medical University Hospital in Ajman, may be partly cultural.
“About 30 per cent of all psoriasis cases are hereditary,” he said. Marital customs, he continued, may be part of the reason for the high numbers of patients with the disease.
Another reason could be that the disease has no cure, leaving doctors able to treat the symptoms only.
“Current treatments for psoriasis are often limited,” said Dr Hussein Abdel-Dayem, the chief dermatologist at Abu Dhabi’s Mafraq Hospital.
“People with the disease need new treatment options that can provide consistent relief from painful symptoms and can improve their quality of life.”
Although it usually strikes between the ages of 15 and 25, psoriasis can appear at any age, said Dr Kadhum.
It causes skin cells to die very quickly – in three days rather than the normal 72 – but not be shed. The dead cells pile up atop the skin, forming lesions. These are itchy and uncomfortable, but that, said Dr Kadhum, is not “the big issue”.
“The really big problem is the ugly factor for the patient, especially if the lesions are on the face or hands,” he said.
One of Dr Kadhum’s patients changed professions so he would not have to deal with clients or shake anyone’s hand.
“He could not hide the lesions on his hands and didn’t want to bother explaining that they are not contagious,” said Dr Kadhum. “This disease affects a patient’s self-confidence severely.”
A survey of more than 10,000 sufferers of the condition in countries around the world found that 14 per cent lost or quit their jobs because of the condition, and 23 per cent believed that it negatively affects their income. Two in five said they cancelled social obligations at least five times a year, ashamed to be seen in public.