September’s – ‘The Power Issue’ – Download Now
Having had the dream and desire to serve in the medical field since she was young, Her Excellency Dr Maryam Mohamed Fatima Matar MD, Ph.D has become a pioneer and a visionary in the healthcare space in the UAE.
For the past 16 years, the UAE Genetic Diseases Association has been conducting pioneering research in the field under the strong leadership of its founder and chairperson Her Excellency Dr Maryam Mohamed Fatma Matar. What led Her Excellency to place a focus on genetic disorders in her medical career was the evidence she came across during her studies and the start of her career. “Worldwide evidence suggests that prevention of genetic disorders is the most effective way to reduce, and manage genetic disorders and I decided to dedicate myself in more learning and implementing this evidence to better handle our national health challenge,” she tells Emirates Woman. This led her to found the volunteer-led NGO to tackle some of the most serious genetic diseases known to humans including genetic blood disorders, Alzheimer’s, Autism, cancers of different kinds, celiac diseases and more.
Not only is Her Excellency a pioneer in the medical space, she is a role model for many women in the UAE seeking to succeed, whether that be in healthcare or other industries. Additionally, she’s able to facilitate change, paving the way for other women and girls in the region. “My role as the Chairperson of UAE GDA and being the most powerful women scientist, gives me huge opportunity to make change and influence decision-makers to bring more learning and career opportunities for girls and women,” she says.
Discussing her powerful and pivotal role within the medical space, Dr Matar details to Emirates Woman what power means to her; the incredible successes the UAE Genetic Diseases Association has achieved under her leadership; the philosophy she lives by in her career; and the highs and lows of her career.
Her dream to work in the medical space …
From a very young age, I was a very keen observer of scientific education. I grew up with a dream to serve and medical science is a perfect opportunity to help people, communities and bring a change to the world.
Her mission to serve the community…
My journey towards my mission of serving the community started with my Medicine Degree programme with Dubai Women’s College. As a young but committed student, I had opted to work in public health clinics in my practical training and during my time I realized that families are suffering with genetic disorders in a big way. My scientific and medical education enabled me to understand this challenge in our country and region in a scientific and detailed manner. Worldwide evidence suggests that prevention of genetic disorders is the most effective way to reduce, and manage genetic disorders and I decided to dedicate myself in more learning and implementing this evidence to better handle our national health challenge.
UAE Genetic Diseases Association was founded in 2004 and since then and till today is a volunteer-led NGO.
Since 2004, we have achieved:
- Legislation on Mandatory Premarital screening
- Legislation on Mandatory Newborn screening
- A national screening programme for the common genetic blood disorders in 2006 aimed at identifying Thalassemia, Sickle cell anaemia and G6PDH carriers in the UAE population.
- With dedicated efforts of scientific and community volunteers of HCT, Dubai Women’s College, Dubai Men’s College and many scientists and experts, we achieved the extraordinary results of screening 37,281 Emirati families and more than 13,000 expat families in this programme, which is the largest campaign of its kind in the GCC.
- Manal – Folic Acid prevention programme & WHO fortified wheat campaign/
- A recent cabinet decision that rules that unmarried women and couples can now freeze their eggs in the UAE.
- Legislation on the ban of smoking in public places in UAE.
- Advocacy and leading the patient support through Patient support community groups for Breast Cancer called Ebtesam, and a Rare Diseases support group under my mentorship.
- UAE GDA supports and promote support groups for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), Alzheimer’s, Autism, cancers of different kinds and celiac diseases as well as help and guide several public health efforts and projects on an annual basis.
I am also serving on several policy-making forums, commissions and groups in UAE, GCC region and global levels so we can all create a roadmap of scientific management and treatments.
By the grace of God and support of my UAE GDA board, scientific committee and volunteers, I am able to dedicate myself to all my responsibilities and mission.
- My work at UAE GDA was recognised as ‘Pioneering Arab Woman in healthcare innovation 2019’ by 21st Pioneer Leadership Award
- Among two chosen Arab Women members of the Selection Committee of Zayed Sustainability Award
- Represented UAE women as the recipient of the prestigious Sheikha Fatima Leadership Award USA
- Representing the Arab scientific community as Co-chair and committee member of the Global Commission to End the Diagnostic Odyssey for Children with a Rare Disease.
On breaking barriers…
For me, my gender was never a factor or an obstacle in my education, my career, my choices or achievements. In fact, being a woman made it easier for me to engage with our tribes, our community and mothers as I first set out to start public health, prevention and population screening programmes. I say this with utmost pride and gratitude to the founding fathers of UAE and Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the General Women’s Union, GWU, and President of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood and Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation.
By the grace of God, I had the fortune of receiving mentorship and support of His Highness Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan Cabinet Member and Minister of State for Tolerance of UAE and President, UAE Genetic Diseases Association who believed in my vision from day one.
My roles as the First Woman Director-General in Dubai Government – Community Development Authority and the First Emirati woman Undersecretary in Dubai Government – Ministry of Health are a testimony of the values and trust our leaders place in women, in a long-term vision and rewarding the good work.
The mentors & guidance she received…
Being an Emirati woman, I am very privileged, and my strength and abilities come with the blessed support of my mentor HH Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Cabinet Member and Minister of State for Tolerance of UAE, and our leaders. Each of these distinguished leaders trusts in the abilities of the UAE’s daughters and opened doors for us to learn and serve our country and the world. Our leaders, who are guided by the vision of Sheikh Zayed, the founding father of UAE, have always supported my Emirati sisters in all fields. The UAE vision is an inclusive strategy with special emphasis on youth and women development. My mother was and is my first mentor, as she was my first teacher and also a role model. My parents allowed me to dream big and gave me opportunities to follow my purpose, even though they faced social pressures.
The philosophy she lives by…
To be grateful, have big vision and value collaboration and the community you live in. If one works with the objective of betterment of people and the world, one will always find resources, strength and guidance.
The key lessons…
Identify your life purpose and work towards your purpose, with all your skills, energy and commitment. Value the power of collaboration and people who trust, support and enhance your vision. No matter what your vocation and career is, you can always find a way to serve with selfless work and make the lives of people better. Success is a sum total of your efforts, determination, honest work and your love for our purpose.
Championing other women…
My role as the Chairperson of UAE GDA and being the most powerful women scientist, gives me a huge opportunity to make change and influence decision-makers to bring more learning and career opportunities for girls and women. Today I serve as a global speaker and mentor on women leadership, STEM and scientific innovation and we support the cause of women empowerment, participation and recognition in corporate and educational sectors. I mentor over 100 professional women and 500 young professional graduates on an annual basis and engage with over 5000 students. I also serve on academic boards of academic and scientific institutions and promote the formation of STEM committees. I speak in more than 35 specialist conferences in the field of healthcare across the globe every year and engage with thought leaders, doctors, nurses and para-medical teams of women. Hopefully, I give them enough inspiration to advance their careers.
The challenges she has overcome
For me, every difficult situation is an opportunity to make a change, grow and learn so I will share two of the most significant opportunities I had.
One of the biggest opportunities for me was to gain community acceptance to introduce the concept of population screening and prevention to our people.
We know how crucial this step was and is and hence I was fully committed to make it a success. We met our people in all parts of the UAE, including the remotest parts and listened and understood their feedback. We learnt from their feedback and created our programmes to put education and awareness as the core of the project. We created a clear, scientifically-backed roadmap, and emphasized on critical issues like privacy, confidentiality and consent in our programme.
The second opportunity was to successfully place UAE in the global scientific hub of genetic sciences. To achieve this, UAE GDA organised the first-ever International Genetic Sciences Conference and UAE Genetic Disorders Prevention Awards in 2009. This was the first global event in UAE on genetics and since then we have organized 8 such conferences and awards. Over 1000 international scientists, speakers and eminent academic experts have joined us as speakers and award recipients. We are in active collaboration with more than 200 global centres of genetics today. Our scientific committee is made up of members of the highest calibre in international, regional and national categories. These achievements, our track record and work and support of our international partners, have established UAE as a leading centre of genetic sciences however we are always looking to create new and better ways to make more progress.
Her most rewarding career moments
My most rewarding milestone was to be a Guest of Honour in the cabinet meeting where the law of mandatory premarital screening was passed in 2009.
The legislation was passed based on UAE GDA project recommendations, findings and results of our first population screening programme. This first law subsequently saw another mandatory newborn screening legislation. These legislations proved to be a true game-changer for the UAE population, as we were able to bring down the incidents of the six most common genetic disorders to a minimum in very little time. As a Guest of Honour, I was representing all the volunteers, experts, teams and my parents, who trusted me and stood with me when I started with the concept of population screening and prevention of genetic disorders.
My other milestones are the ones where I was able to create changes at policy and infrastructure level for my country, and I was not only recognised as myself, but also as a representative of UAE women, my Emirati sisters and as a role model.
Another moment of pride and happiness was when I was chosen as a first female Director-General in Dubai Government – Community Development Authority. This is a very distinguished position and offers a huge opportunity to make a real difference to the health policy framework.
The Community Development Authority (CDA) undertakes the responsibilities of formulating and delivering social policies and services that are in line and contribute to the achievement of the social development objectives of Dubai’s Strategic Plan 2007 – 2015 as launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
As the first Emirati woman to bear the title Undersecretary to the Minister of Health in 2006 I worked on designing blueprints for Primary and Public Health care sector and implementing it. For me, the significant achievement was launching a number of initiatives to deliver Primary Health Care Services in the Northern Emirates and increase the number of PHC centres from 52 to 79 in less than one year.
Primary healthcare centres are a backbone of an efficient infrastructure for any country and serve as a pillar of public health. Today I look back and feel proud that the model is still used as a successful case study.
What power means to her
Power is an opportunity earned through selfless work, as a blessing given by God to the chosen few – to be able to serve the community better, and make changes that have a positive and long-lasting impact on humanity and future of this world.
September’s – ‘The Power Issue’ – Download Now
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