United Arab Emirates UniversityUAEU researchers to follow 10,000 mother-baby pairs for more than a decade

UAEU researchers to follow 10,000 mother-baby pairs for more than a decade

Mother and child health study

The Mutaba’ah maternal-child study is the first of its kind in the country, and aims to give researchers a greater understanding of the development of health issues

Researchers at the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) are studying 10,000 pregnant women in the country’s first longitudinal cohort study into maternal and child health. The Mutaba’ah Study, which means “follow up” in Arabic, will follow the baby into their teen years, collecting data on their health and development.

Maternal health during pregnancy and a child’s early development affects the child’s health throughout their life. Until now, this area has not been systematically researched in the UAE, says Luai A Ahmed, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Institute of Public Health – part of the College of Medicine and Health Sciences at UAEU – and the principal investigator on the Mutaba’ah Study. The study will “give us an understanding of the natural development of health issues”, which may link to risk factors experienced during pregnancy and early childhood, Dr Ahmed says. 

Longitudinal studies “are one of the main pillars of research success in academic institutions”, says Dr Ahmed. “These studies can continue to contribute scientific output for years and even generations to come. They make it possible for researchers to continue to come to the data and investigate new research questions.” Scientists may even choose to follow these research participants after the Mutaba’ah Study’s planned follow up is over, checking in after 40 or 60 years, he adds.

The study will create a database of health information, and this is in large part thanks to collaboration with researchers in other departments. In the Institute of Public Health, “we did and still have our own research interests and specific research questions on maternal-child health”, Dr Ahmed says. “But we wanted it to be as inclusive as possible and we wanted to ask the others what sort of data they wanted in the databank.” To this end, the team reached out to researchers in other departments at the university, such as paediatrics and obstetrics and gynaecology, as well as other institutions. “This helped us in designing the questions and data that need to be collected,” he says.

At the moment, women involved in the Mutaba’ah Study are responding to questionnaires about their pregnancy, mainly focusing on socio-demographic, lifestyle, nutrition and environmental information, and this data are linked to their medical information. The researchers will also collect information on the babies’ births and health records. Once born, babies will be assessed periodically until they are 16. However, Dr Ahmed says the team has not yet determined the questions they will be asking them in a few years – those questions will reflect the pressing research issues of the time.

Dr Ahmed is interested in establishing more longitudinal studies in the UAE. The Mutaba’ah Study is currently the second longitudinal study in the country, with the first focusing on cardiovascular disease among middle-aged Emiratis. However, an important segment of the population has yet to be studied. “The older population needs more attention,” he says. “The UAE is considered a young country, but with development and advances in health and wealth, we’re expecting more people will live longer and will require special attention in the future. It will be interesting to follow them as a specific cohort,” he says.

Find out more about the Institute of Public Health at UAEU.

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