Sunday, 21 June 2015

No need to feel down - Ramadan Kareem!

Friday I awoke feeling really fed up. It was with some reluctance that I got out of bed and started a day that would see me once more in Abu Dhabi at the end of it. The week had already been a long one, and the thought of spending 7 hours in a plane a long weekend in a very hot city, and to be here at what is the start of Ramadan. Ramadan is the holy month for Muslims. All adult Muslims are required to abstain from food, drink, tobacco and certain other pleasurable pursuits between sunrise and sunset. During Ramadan fasting is compulsory for adult Muslims and this takes place during the hours of daylight. Here in Abu Dhabi, it is an offence to eat, drink or smoke in the sight of a fasting Muslim. 

At sunset the fast is broken with the Iftar feast, and I am going to my first one this evening. Whilst there is no alcohol served at the feasts they are said to be a time of great celebration and happiness. I am looking forward to the event. And last week, right at the start of Ramadan, one of my PhD students successfully defended his thesis at his viva, and subject to some corrections, will now become the third nurse in Kuwait to have a PhD. I was very proud to have been part of his journey and I am sure he had much to celebrate at his family Iftar that night.

One of the aspects of Ramadan is to take time to reflect about those less fortunate than oneself, and people are encouraged to think about ‘sadaqah’ (or voluntary charity) in providing for those poor, ill or otherwise find themselves in difficulty. Internationally, one of the reasons that individuals can find themselves without employment, ill or struggling with everyday life is depression. The World Health Organisation (WHO) note that depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide.

Here in the United Arab Emirates, 5% of the population are known to live with clinical depression, with many more dealing with mental health problems. Worldwide, only 25% with depression receive treatment, and then this is mostly antidepressant medication. However, even then, many of the current antidepressants available can cause significant side effects, such as weight gain, drowsiness, sexual dysfunction and loss of sexual desire, fatigue, blurred vision and insomnia. The medication is not always successful between 30 – 50 % may not gain any therapeutic benefit.

Many antidepressants work by increasing the level of serotonin in the brain (although how this happens isn’t entirely clear). No new antidepressants have been developed for several decades, so it was interesting to read of the work of researchers at the University of Bath who have reported encouraging results from combing medication used in pain relief with medications used in treating drug addiction. This combination, has been shown to produce antidepressant effects (well in mice at least) without the side effects. Publishing their results in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, they acknowledge that while these results are promising, there is some way to go before the combination is available for use, but the time it will take is likely to be much, much shorter and cheaper than the development processes used in bring new drugs to the market. 

Being fleet of foot was the subject of this year’s PA Consulting Report on UK Universities. This year’s report essentially looked at how the UK university sector compared to the rest of the world in terms of flexibility, attractiveness and economic viability. The report identified 7 areas that universities needed to consider in order to be in the running for survival: curriculum reforms and new pedagogies; student driven flexible study modes; integration of learning with working practice; mobility and transferability between providers; uses of technology to transform learning experiences; use of student data analytic's for personalised services; unbundling of educational service provision. I am glad to say that as a School we are already  actively working on 6 of these areas.