Maryam Matar aims to be the first Arab woman to be awarded Nobel Prize in medicine
BUCHAREST - Thanks to her tireless and successful work in medicine, Dr Maryam Matar for two years in a row was ranked fourth in the Arab world of active researchers and the most powerful Emirati female researcher in science.
Matar is an enthusiastic and dedicated medical researcher who is a source of inspiration to everyone. She is a tireless advocate of public education and awareness about genetic disorders. With her team of researchers, she has worked on charting the genetic map of UAE inhabitants. Matar is the founder and chairwoman of the UAE Genetic Diseases Association, which educates people about the dangers of genetic diseases.
Matar was the first woman in the United Arab Emirates to hold the position of director general of public health. In that position and being a fervent advocate of public and community health, she almost doubled the number of community health centres in the UAE to 97.
Matar has an impressive number of academic degrees, diplomas and certificates in medical sciences from reputed universities in Dubai, the United Kingdom, the United States and Japan. She is the first Arab woman doctor to be certified in genetic diseases by Japan’s medical authorities.
Matar comes from a modest home in Dubai. Her parents were illiterate but encouraged their daughter to pursue the highest degrees possible. Her maternal grandmother was a popular healer.
Matar likes to tell how her grandmother had a great influence on what she wanted to be when she grew up: “When my grandmother died, many people came to offer their condolences and they were crying. I asked my mother who they were and she said that they were patients of my grandmother’s. So I asked my mother, ‘If I become a doctor, will people love me like they loved my grandmother?’ and she said yes. From that moment, I wanted to become a doctor and I studied very hard for it.”
Matar began studying medicine in Dubai and then finished her graduate studies in the United Kingdom. She did research in the United States and went to the Far East to specialise in genetic disorders and diseases.
Matar founded UAE Down Syndrome Association and the UAE Genetic Diseases Association, non-profit civil society associations she runs. Both provide care and support to many and collaborate with some ministries and were instrumental in pushing for instituting pre-marital medical examinations.
The associations introduced numerous social awareness campaigns about Down syndrome, including the 2012 “UAE Free of Trisomy” campaign, in addition to establishing primary care centres in Emirati engineering schools and Dubai Ladies Club.
In 2012, Matar was named by the Arabian Business magazine as the most powerful Emirati Female Scientist and Researcher. The Arab League enlisted her as a goodwill ambassador for women and children.
Her pioneering work garnered numerous prizes and awards. She is the recipient of Sheikh Rashid Award for Scientific Outstanding in the School of Medicine, and of the best health project award at the level of the Higher Colleges of Technology in the United Arab Emirates, the award for best employee in the health sector in Dubai Government Excellence Programme and an award from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Leaders Programme in the category of Best Social Programme.
Matar has been recognised as one of the most influential Muslim female scientists by the Islamic Sciences Journal published in the United Kingdom.
“I look at every title and appointment as a heavy responsibility that motivates me to give more,” said Matar. “I’m very honoured by the trust put in me by our government. The best recognition that one can get is the one that comes from one’s home country. Still, being in the service of people and giving generously are for me better than any award.”
In the Arab world, Western doctors are looked at in a better light than Arab doctors. Matar said the phenomenon was because of a lack of self-confidence by Arab doctors.
“As Emirati and Arab doctors, we must become self-confident through our constant work and through keeping up with every development in our field,” she said. “We have to talk with our patients and explain their ailments to them. This nourishes our self-confidence since we become aware that we have the right knowledge and we are capable of communicating it to our patients in simple language.
“The society will come to trust us through the care we provide and through the dialogues and connections we establish with our patients.”
Matar said treatments are the same everywhere and the main differences lie in the health-care systems adopted by each country. She said health-care systems in most Western countries reached maturity through a long process of experimentation and learning from mistakes.
She said there is no harm in learning from the West’s experiences in health care, provided it is done in carefully paced steps so health-care managers have a chance to experiment and evaluate, given that the health and social contexts in the Arab world are different from the West.
Matar said there must be patience with health-care systems in the Arab world because a phase of distrust in those systems is a sign of the health of the system. People need to accept that it is part of progressing towards a better system.
“Some critics might ask if we are experimentation fields. The answer is, of course, ‘No’, but this is exactly what had happened in America or Britain,” Matar said. “They, too, have gone through a phase of experimentation and learning from their mistakes.
“We must show patience. No doctor wants to harm his or her patients. The system must create the right conditions for doctors to do their jobs without having to worry about side issues.”
In formal meetings, Matar stresses the importance of doctors staying up-to-date in their fields through international medical conferences. She said, no matter how knowledgeable doctors become, there are others with more experience.
By listening to those experts and learning from their experience, Arab physicians can reach the right comprehensive health-care systems that protect both patients and care providers.
Matar said her dream is to go as far as she can in scientific knowledge and experience. She is not alone there. Many scientists from around the world dream of being awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
Many people may see this dream is out of reach for an Arab woman who has dedicated her life and knowledge to serving her community but Matar said it is within her reach. She strives for it every day of her life and is keeping her hopes high.