Conducting environmental health research in the Arabian Middle East: lessons learned and opportunities

Environ Health Perspect. 2012 May;120(5):632-6. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1104031. Epub 2012 Feb 22.


Background: The Arabian Gulf nations are undergoing rapid economic development, leading to major shifts in both the traditional lifestyle and the environment. Although the pace of change is brisk, there is a dearth of environmental health research in this region.

Objective: We describe challenges and successes of conducting an environmental epidemiologic study in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a Gulf nation in the Middle East, with an inter-disciplinary team that includes in-country academic and government collaborators as well as U.S. academic collaborators.

Discussion: We present several issues, including study and data collection design, exposure assessment, scheduling and time coordination, quality assurance and quality control, and institutional review board protocols. These topics are considered in a cultural context. Benefits of this research included building linkages among multinational, interdisciplinary team members, generating data for local environmental decision making, and developing local epidemiologic research capacity. The Middle Eastern culture of hospitality greatly benefited the project team.

Conclusion: Cultural differences impact multiple aspects of epidemiologic research and should be respectfully addressed. Conducting international population-based environmental research poses many challenges; these challenges can be met successfully with careful planning, cultural knowledge, and flexibility. Lessons learned are applicable to interdisciplinary research all over the world. The research conducted will benefit the environmental and public health agencies of the UAE and provide the nation's leadership with country-specific environmental health data that can be used to protect the public's health in a rapidly changing environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Health*
  • International Cooperation
  • Research*
  • United Arab Emirates
  • United States