Back-to-work strategy: How to help new parents transition back to work

back-to-work strategy article

Returning to work after taking time out can be tough, especially for new parents. Assuming most companies want to retain their talented returnees, it behooves employers to address the reintroduction of employees to the workplace and provide a softer landing for returning new parents. But, how can employers better facilitate new parents returning to work? To answer this question, today’s blog post by employee benefits specialist Pacific Prime looks at the key ways in which companies can best implement a back-to-work strategy.

The importance of a back-to-work strategy

Back-to-work schemes are an integral part of an organization’s HR strategy, and are designed to facilitate the reintegration of employees who have been on leave from work due to maternity/paternity leave or other reasons (e.g. caring for ill parents, injury, etc.). The right back-to-work strategy isn’t just something that’s ‘nice to have’, it can, in fact, also form an instrumental part of a company’s growth strategy.

Here, we look at the key reasons why employers should support effective return to work:

Help returnees deal with back-to-work anxiety

For many new parents, the excitement of welcoming a new addition to the family goes hand-in-hand with apprehension about juggling work-life duties once the new baby arrives. This apprehension and uncertainty can cause a great deal of back-to-work anxiety among new parents, both personally and professionally. For example, new moms and dads often worry about:

  • Separation anxiety: New parents often feel guilty about being away from their new baby.
  • Juggling responsibilities both at home and at work: We all know that parenting can be a full time job on its own, but what about the many parents who also do work for other people? According to a recent Working Mother study, working moms spend an average of 98 hours working a week, a lot more than the traditional work week of 40 hours.
  • Lack of job security: Having a baby can create career complications for new parents, leading many to worry about their job security (e.g. lack of promotion, demotion). In fact, a UK study found that 45 percent of moms return to work before the end of their maternity leave because of fears that they would lose their job if they took the full amount.
  • Loneliness: Reentering the workplace can be a lonely experience, especially if the returnee is the only one going through it in the company. Even the most caring coworkers and friends might not be able to fully understand or anticipate the needs of returning new parents.
  • Emotional distance: Being away from work for an extended period of time can create a sense of emotional distance between the returnee and their coworkers.

After an extended period of time away from work, it’s only natural that many returnees lose confidence and feel anxious about the prospect of returning to the workplace. Whether employers realize it or not, too often companies are not doing enough to reintroduce returning parents to the workplace. With this in mind, the right back-to-work strategy can help new moms and dads make a smoother, less emotionally draining transition back to work.

Retain top talent

While attracting talent remains top on the agendas of employers, the pendulum is swinging towards talent retention. Losing top talent represents a large loss of investment, especially when the company that lured your employee away is one of your competitors.

Throw in the fact that three in five (59%) of new parents – both men and women – say they’re likely to switch employers after their first baby, and it’s clear to see why a growing number of companies are realizing it’s in their best interest to make sure new parents get the support they need when they return to the workplace.

Boost your employer brand

If your company is known for having a supportive and family friendly working environment, you’ll create a more favorable brand perception for yourself as an employer, and also a better perception of your business. This, in turn, is not only good for your business as it pertains to organizational growth, but also provides you with an edge over the competition. An example of a company that has put considerable effort into supporting new parents is Goldman Sachs, who implemented a “Help at Home” intranet bulletin allowing employees to share key tips on child care. The result: a more supportive culture, and employees who spend less time stressing over the many aspects of child care.

Back-to-work benefits that appeal most to working parents

Now that we’ve established the importance of a back-to-work strategy, the question now is: “What back-to-work benefits should employers consider for new parents rejoining the workforce?” Here, we look at three top perks that appeal most to working parents:

Flexible or alternative working hours

Flexible working hours is one of the top benefits that working moms value the most, according to a recent company benefits survey. Work can sometimes require an interruption from the typical nine-to-five, whether it’s due to child care responsibilities or other family obligations.

A focus on flexibility, for example flexible working hours, can be very beneficial for new parents rejoining the workplace, allowing them to meet their personal needs. This could mean allowing employees to start working earlier in the morning (e.g. at 7 AM instead of 9 AM), so that parents can leave earlier to take care of their new child.

Workplace support

Support initiatives like educational workshops/webinars and coaching sessions can be very beneficial for new working parents. Additionally, initiatives like buddy programs, which pairs employees with peers who have been through the same transition can ensure that the returnee feels less lonely and has someone to turn to for guidance.

Extra perks like breastfeeding facilities can also further establish a family friendly working environment. For example, multinational pharmaceutical company Johnson and Johnson offers temperature controlled breast milk delivery for moms travelling for business purposes as part of their back-to-work strategy.

Employee health insurance

Finally, due in part to skyrocketing healthcare costs, health insurance is another top perk that appeals most to employees. And for new moms and dads, health insurance coverage increases in importance. Considering the high financial cost of raising a child, a comprehensive employer-provided health insurance package that includes cover for your employees’ children can do wonders in providing working parents with much needed financial support.

Implementing the best-fitting employee health insurance plan can, however, be a daunting task. With this in mind, it often pays to work with an experienced employee benefits broker like Pacific Prime.

Get in touch with Pacific Prime today

If you’re looking to learn more about the world of employee benefits and corporate health insurance, be sure to get in touch with the experienced advisors at Pacific Prime today. As the broker of choice for over 3,000 companies worldwide, we’ve had almost 20 years of experience advising, devising, and implementing the most optimal corporate solutions for businesses of all sizes.

Alternatively, be sure to check out our corporate site to learn more about us and the companies we work with, or read our blog to stay up-to-date on the latest employee benefits and wellness issues.

Health insurance coverage and employee health outcomes

Health insurance coverage and health outcomes article

We often hear people in the healthcare sector talk about ‘health outcomes’, but what does it really mean? According to World Health Organization, an outcome is “a change in the health status of an individual, group or population which is attributable to a planned intervention or series of interventions, regardless of whether such an intervention was intended to change health status.” In other words, a health outcome can be described as the efficacy of interventions (healthcare or health insurance coverage, for example) in improving the health status of patients, employees, or the society at large.

As populations continue to age, and Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) continue to rise at alarming rates, a growing proportion of the world’s population are experiencing a decline in their health status. As such, it’s become more important than ever for governments, key decision makers, health care providers, insurers, and employers to focus on improving the health status of patients, employees, and populations. To shed some light on the issue, today’s article looks at the relationship between health insurance coverage and employee health outcomes.

health outcomes and health insurance coverage article

Health-related quality of life

Before we look at the relationship between health insurance coverage and health outcomes, we’d first like to address how outcomes are usually measured. While there exists many variations of definitions for the term health outcomes, one primary aspect that almost all concepts focus on are the central measures or indicators used to measure the health status of patients.

One such indicator is health-related quality of life, which is a multidimensional concept that encompasses domains related to physical, mental, emotional, and social functioning. Put differently, it refers to how physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially healthy people feel when they are alive. An oft-used measurement of health-related quality of life is “healthy days”, which is generated by asking people about the number of physically or mentally unhealthy days they experience per month.

Healthcare costs and health outcomes

In the past 20 years, consumer price inflation (CPI) has grown at an average rate of about 2.2 percent, whereas the price level of medical care has grown at an average rate of 3.6 percent – that’s about 70 percent faster. Explanations are not hard to find. In our International Private Medical Insurance Inflation – 2017 report, we looked at the main forces behind hiking healthcare costs and, subsequently, health insurance costs: new medical technology, an imbalance of health resources, increased compensation for medical professionals, and healthcare overutilization.

As healthcare spending continues to exceed economic growth at an unsustainable level, more and more people are finding it increasingly hard to afford and access quality care. Demographic changes such as ageing populations, and the growing incidence of NCDs, are further exacerbating the healthcare ‘cost crisis’. Some commentators believe the challenge of delivering better health outcomes with lower overall costs can be attributed to ineffective cost measurement processes, leaving better value care out of reach for both providers and patients.

If healthcare costs are better controlled, people (in theory) have a greater ability to access the care they need to live healthier lives. For instance, patients can undergo more frequent screenings and health check-ups to ensure early detection of cancer, diabetes, and other serious conditions. This can help ensure that less costly and complex care is needed in the long run, and can also limit health deterioration.

The role of health insurance coverage

Health insurance is a key tool for managing financial risk and offsetting the cost of care. According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, there is abundant evidence that suggests having health insurance improves financial security. For example, the article cited a US-based study on the ACA’s 2014 Medicaid expansion’s links to reduced bill collection and bankruptcies, thus confirming that health insurance reduces the risk of unforeseen medical costs.

From an employee benefits perspective, the annual Employee Benefit Trends Study has long reported the importance employees place on financial security. One of the key ways businesses address this need is by offering employer-provided health insurance as part of their employee benefits package. In addition to bolstering employee financial security, there’s also a good chance that implementing the right employee health benefits leads to better workforce health outcomes, which translates to lower healthcare costs for employers in the long run.

Health insurance and access to care

According to the aforementioned New England Journal of Medicine article, several studies have shown that health insurance coverage has been linked to higher rates of patients being able to afford care, a factor which is oft-associated with better health outcomes. In fact, the CDC states that health insurance coverage provides a strong indication of a population’s access to care.

In recognizing the importance of ensuring universal access to quality care, a growing number of locations have made or are in the process of making health insurance mandatory. For example, Abu Dhabi introduced universal health insurance coverage in 2006, which led to an immediate 40 percent increase in hospital and clinic visits by people able to afford care for the very first time. A rise in the utilization of care has also been witnessed in Dubai, where employers of all sizes are now required to provide compliant health insurance coverage to employees.

Access to preventative services

The New England Journal of Medicine study further revealed that the expansion of coverage benefits increases access to preventative services, which can help patients detect health issues early on so they can better manage their health.

To mitigate rising healthcare costs, a growing number of employers are also seeing the importance of offering preventative care cover in employee benefit plans. In fact, a Willis Towers Watson study found that 39 percent of employers throughout the world now offer some form of preventative care and wellness program, and this percentage is projected to grow significantly in 2018.

Self-reported health and wellbeing

There’s also evidence to suggest that health insurance coverage improves patients’ perceptions of their health. Why is this important? According to World Health Organization, subjective physical and mental wellbeing (i.e. the notion of feeling better or feeling healthy) is one of the key goals that medical care should aim to achieve. Additionally, people who report that their health is poor have been found to have mortality rates 2 to 10 times higher than those who report being in the healthiest category.

What about mental health?

In addition to addressing physical health, the issue of mental health has also been brought into the spotlight as a key factor that is closely linked to health outcomes. In fact, as employee stress continues to rise, 61 percent of global insurers now offer coverage for mental health treatment and stress in their standard health insurance plans.

Our recent article, written in partnership with Asia Care Group, further revealed a number of key findings which show the importance of addressing employee mental health. These include:

  • Demanding jobs increase the chances of physician-diagnosed illness by 35 percent, and long working hours increase mortality by almost 20 percent.
  • Job insecurity increases the likelihood of reporting poor health by 50 percent.
  • The global cost of mental disorders is expected to reach USD 6 trillion by 2030, which primarily includes the costs and strains to the healthcare sector.

While health insurance plays a significant role in enabling access to better mental health care, employers are advised to look beyond health insurance in order to employ a more holistic approach to employee benefits which includes considerations for wellness benefits that target mental health. Examples of what employers can do to address mental health include:

  • Inviting a mental health professional to talk to employees about various mental health topics
  • Providing mental health management resources, such as online counselling services.
  • Partnering with an employee benefits specialist like Pacific Prime, who can help devise, implement, and manage your company’s benefits and mental wellness solutions.

Looking to learn more about improving your employees’ health outcomes?

As employee benefits specialists, we’ve had almost 20 years of experience delivering employee benefits solutions to companies of all sizes and industries. Holding the unique ability to devise, implement, and manage the most optimal plans that improve employee health outcomes, while also ensuring that they remain sustainable and cost-effective year-on-year, it’s no wonder why we are the broker of choice for over 3,000 corporate clients.

What’s more, we’re an insurance intermediary, which means we are not beholden to any one insurance provider. As such, we work for you, and not the insurer, so you can rest assured that we’ll find you the best plan for your employee’s needs. To learn more about how Pacific Prime can help your company, contact us today! Our corporate team are standing by to offer their impartial advice, as well as give you a no-obligation, free quote.

Out of the shadows: Making mental health a priority for Hong Kong employers

mental health article

Mental health issues are pervasive across the world, in virtually every population; affecting all of us either directly or indirectly. Hong Kong, with its frenetic and competitive work culture, is no stranger to this phenomenon. In fact, it has been estimated that about 32 percent of employees in 2016 were classed as having unsatisfactory mental health – up from 29 percent in 2015.

A 2014 survey commissioned by the Mental Health Association (MHA) further found that a whopping 60 percent of Hong Kongers report job-related stress and anxiety. Despite these alarming figures, there still remains widespread social stigma towards those battling with mental illness, leading many in the city to suffer in silence.

To that end, this article by Pacific Prime and healthcare advisory firm Asia Care Group looks at the state of mental health and illness in Hong Kong, its implications for employers, and what companies can do to address the issue of mental wellbeing and health in the workplace.

mental health article image

State of mental health in Hong Kong

Talking about and addressing mental health in Hong Kong is something many don’t do, or refuse to acknowledge. Candace Albert from the Asia Care Group further explained, “Fear drives discrimination and myth, and prevents people from seeking care. Encouraging an open dialogue on these subjects and increasing the level of mental health literacy among the general public are established strategies to drive change. At a societal level, increased openness about mental health will reduce stigma, promote earlier identification of common mental disorders, and enhance the likelihood that individuals explore health resources”.

This stigma has only recently started to be addressed by the government, who conducted their first-ever territory wide survey of mental illness in 2010. The report’s final study findings, which were published in a peer-reviewed journal in 2015, found that the prevalence of common mental disorders among adults aged 16 to 75 was 13.3 percent.

Given these findings, Dr. Chan Chung-mau, Chairman of the Hong Kong Association for the Promotion of Mental Health, wrote in his EJInsight article that it is possible that well over one million people in Hong Kong are in need of some form of mental healthcare. Healthcare, which in many cases, is under-supported.

Mental illness support: How Hong Kong compares with other Asia-Pacific countries

In addition to the above mentioned findings, a 2016 Mental Health and Integration report by The Economist Intelligence Unit gave Hong Kong an overall score of 65.8 out of 100 with regard to  their effort to integrate those suffering with mental health illness into the community.

Hong Kong’s worst performance was in the area of governance – including efforts to reduce stigma and promote human rights of mental healthcare patients, where Hong Kong is said to lack “a formal overarching mental health policy”. While the Hospital Authority’s 2010 Mental Health Service Plan helps fill the void in bringing coherence to the service provision, “coordination remains spotty”.

mental health index

Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit

For example, the Food and Health Bureau handles medical care of mental illness patients, whereas community support is managed by the Labour and Welfare Bureau. This fragmentation has led to a key support structure, trained psychiatrists, being largely understaffed.

Shortage of psychiatrists in Hong Kong

As of the time this article’s writing, the patient-psychiatrist ratio here is about 4.5 per 100,000 people, whereas the UK has 14.63 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, and Australia has 9.16 psychiatrists per 100,000 population.

The low number of psychiatrists in Hong Kong hurts access to mental healthcare services. This is especially true in the public sector, where people wait as long as 166 weeks for an initial visit. This, coupled with short appointment times of around 5 to 10 minutes per patient, and hiking demand for mental healthcare services, all point to the fact that it is getting harder for public sector doctors to invest their time into treating and supporting patients and their families.

In November 2016, this pressing situation led the government to announce their intentions of further extending their public-private partnership model, which has been in place in general outpatient clinics to handle “suitable and stable” follow-up patients in order to relieve the overburdened public system. As the private sector currently handles about 10 percent of psychiatric patients in Hong Kong, many see the potential in private doctors taking up more patients.

The issue of stigma and mental illness in Hong Kong

Another important issue to address here is the pervasive stigma that still surrounds those with mental illness conditions in Hong Kong and much of Asia. As this issue is multi-faceted, it can be very complex.

To reduce this stigma, in 2010 the Hong Kong government invested HKD 135 million into setting up a community network for people suffering from mental illness. A number of public programs were organized to promote mental well being and foster a greater understanding of mental illness.

On the success of these programs, Candace Albert commented, “The investment initiative to expand the Integrated Community Centres for Mental Wellness is a positive first step. The programs can be enhanced over time by clearly defined referral pathways, both with the existing Hospital Authority services for current and ex- mentally ill patients, and with primary care. The value of community-based programs is strengthened when they operate alongside other services, in an integrated health system.”

Why employers should address the mental health of their employees

The issue of mental health can be a touchy subject that many employers might not be willing to address openly. After all, many hold the widespread opinion that an employer has no business getting involved with their employees’ mental state in the first place. That being said, while employees have every right to maintain their privacy about personal / sensitive issues, it doesn’t mean that companies should completely ignore their employees’ psychological wellbeing.

The reason is clear: an employee’s mental state, if poor and left unaddressed, will likely permeate into the workplace. In fact, its impact is wide-reaching and can be detrimental not only to the employee, but also the employer and society at large. A 2017 Deloitte UK report, titled: At a tipping point? Workplace mental health and wellbeing, delved into this point further and discussed the following key findings:

  • Impact on employees: 85 percent of employees reported symptoms of poor mental health attributed to work-related stress. Demanding jobs increase the chances of physician-diagnosed illness by 35 percent, and long work hours increase mortality by nearly 20 percent.
  • Impact on employers: Poor employee mental wellbeing also results in loss of productivity. The report found that job insecurity increases the odds of reporting poor health by about 50 percent. Absence, however, is not the only cost. Other costs to the business include presenteeism (the loss in productivity from working at less than full capacity), and turnover.
  • Impact on society: Poor mental wellbeing is also costly to society. According to the WHO, the global cost of mental disorders is expected to reach USD 6 trillion by 2030. This primarily includes the costs and strains to the public healthcare sector. In Hong Kong, for example, demand for psychiatric care has grown from 39,770 cases in 2009/2010 to 47,958 cases in 2014/2015, thus leading to an increasingly overburdened public system.

In addition to the above, the University of Hong Kong found in their new study of mental health conditions in the workplace that 90 percent of respondents (both employees and managers) said they needed better support at work. What’s more, 60 percent of respondents believe that mental health issues in the workplace play a large role in pushing away talented staff. “With productivity losses in workplace settings being as high as they are, there’s a strong business case for reducing mental health stigma. Forward-thinking employers stand to benefit by investing in employee mental wellness initiatives because these programs result in reduced staff turnover, lower sick leave, and better employee performance.”, said Candace Albert.

What employers can do to address employee mental health

By addressing and opening up discussion about mental wellbeing in the workplace, employers can offer the support and tools employees need without intruding on their privacy; not to mention create a more positive and productive work environment overall. Here, we’ve included several key ways to address employees’ mental wellbeing and health in the workplace:

Educate your staff

Given the prevalence of mental health issues in Hong Kong, chances are a significant proportion of your staff are already struggling with a problem. A general lack of awareness and pervasive stigma at the workplace, however, can mean that many employees are not willing to acknowledge their problem, or are confused about how they want to deal with it.

To add to this confusion, “mental health” is a broad term that not only refers to disorders and illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, but also a construct similar to physical health. What this means is that, similar to how we take care of our physical wellbeing by eating well and exercising regularly, mental health is not only about treating mental illness, but also about taking care of our bodies, getting enough sleep, stimulating our brain, and managing our emotions.

As part of your employee wellness strategy, one solution is to bring in a qualified mental health professional to educate your employees about the wide range of mental health topics. Topic examples include:

  • Spotting signs and symptoms
  • Supporting colleagues
  • Coping with, reducing, and preventing stress
  • Getting quality sleep
  • Building and enhancing emotional resilience
  • And more

The key is to encourage open discussion that allows employees to feel comfortable and ask questions, so that stigma at your workplace will begin to fade. “It’s not enough just to hang up posters with a helpline or website to encourage people to get help,” Candace Albert commented. “We need to encourage people to think and talk about the issue in a workplace setting, such as through educational sessions and workshops. Many employees are afraid to seek help early on, but the majority of common mental disorders can be treated. With appropriate support, individuals can remain productive and efficient members of the workforce.”

Provide a range of mental health management resources

While putting mental health professionals on site can be very beneficial to your staff, some employees could feel too anxious or embarrassed to talk or open up about their issues. Offering additional resources like telehealth (e.g. online counselling services) can, therefore, be a good way to further support employees. By offering these extra resources, not only are more mental health treatment and/or management options available, but they also enable employees to feel more comfortable in reaching out to get the help they need.

Partner with an employee benefits and wellness specialist

From the above, it is clear that there are many advantages to supporting and addressing mental health in the workplace. With that said, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all mental wellness benefits approach, which is why it can be beneficial to partner with an expert like Pacific Prime, who has the skills and experience to identify, devise, implement, and manage your company’s benefits and mental wellness solutions.

We’re also experts in all things insurance, and are able to deliver employee health insurance solutions that includes considerations for mental health. By offering these extra mental health support benefits, employers can ensure that their valued employees are both physically and mentally healthy, and are never left feeling like they don’t have the support they need.

Do you have any more questions? Contact our team today to get the answers to all your questions, as well as a no-obligation free quote.

About Asia Care Group

Asia Care Group Limited is a boutique healthcare advisory firm that focuses on major strategic change projects in the Asia-Pacific region. ACG works across the industry spectrum, with Governments, Public and Private Providers, Health Insurers and Development Organisations in pursuit of more effective and efficient healthcare systems.

About Candace Albert

Candace Albert is a Managing Consultant with ACG, based in Hong Kong. She holds a BA in Public Health Studies from Johns Hopkins University and a dual MPH and MSc in Sustainable Health Systems. She has spent several years working in the areas of chronic disease, health systems strengthening, and strategic planning at previous posts with the Department of Health (US), OECD (Paris), and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Let’s talk food in Dubai!

Food in Dubai

As we have entered July, many of us have been fasting for the past many weeks. There are numerous potential health benefits of fasting, including weight loss, lowered cholesterol, and lower blood pressure, but let’s face it, people are looking forward to getting back to their normal eating schedules. Are the residents of Dubai choosing healthy options, though? How are the foods that we most commonly enjoy in the Emirates affecting people here? Here, UAE Medical Insurance’s partner Pacific Prime attempts to answer these questions by examining available information about health and food in Dubai.

Dubai’s health situation

As with many other countries in the developed world, the UAE, and thereby Dubai, has been seeing increased incidence of so-called ‘lifestyle diseases’. In fact, some of the statistics related to the health of Dubai are quite striking. For instance, 66% of men and 60% of women in the Emirate are considered to be obese or overweight, and these kinds of figures can be seen across all age groups. This can be seen easily in children in the UAE in general, where a larger portion of children are obese than is seen in the United States, and, furthermore, UAE children have been found to have cholesterol levels consistent with those commonly seen in 60-year-old men. Here are some more points about the current level of health in the UAE:

  • 1 out of every 5 people in the UAE is diabetic.
  • The average age of heart attack patients at Dubai’s Rashid Hospital is 20 years younger than the worldwide average.
  • More than 40 percent of adults in the UAE between 35 and 70 years of age suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • The most common health complaint in the UAE is cardiovascular disease, both in expats and locals alike.
  • Non-communicable diseases are now responsible for over 60 percent of all mortalities in GCC countries, which includes the UAE.

As you can tell from these facts and figures, diseases of affluence have unsurprisingly become a major issue in Dubai, as well as the rest of the UAE. To counter these trends, it would be prudent to focus on a few main points: weight gain, heart disease and diabetes. Here are some of the popular local dishes you can find around Dubai, and some you might want to avoid over indulging in.

Food in Dubai

What are the dishes that Dubai is known for?

On the relatively healthy side of things, there are many great vegetarian dishes enjoyed widely in Dubai. These include staples like Falafel, Hummus, Kousa Mahshi and Tabbouleh. These foods mostly contain heart-healthy fats, dietary fiber and a smattering of vitamins that will provide good fuel for your body while not causing you to gain weight when eaten in moderation.

One of the main ingredients in the foods we eat leading to weight gain, and, thereby, other health problems, is sugar. If not burned immediately for energy, this sweet substance will be stored as fat in our bodies. This is why some of our favorite delectable Dubai dishes should be eaten very sparingly. These include desserts like Luqaimat, Khanfaroosh, Knafeh, Esh Asarya and Mehalabiya, or breakfast dishes like Khabees. Even something seemingly healthy and natural like Dates can have a serious amount of sugar hidden within.

Moving from simple to complex carbohydrates, the array of delicious bread to be found in Dubai will tantalize even the most veteran of savory food lovers. While often good sources of fiber, the carbs in bread often spike insulin, which promotes converting energy into glucose within your body, which will then be stored as fat. This includes the bread and wheat found in dishes like Shawarma, Al Harees, Manousheh, Fatteh, Kellaj, Lahem Bl Ajin and Tabbon Bread.

Finally, we have meat-focused dishes like Ghuzi, Al Machbous, Mixed Grill, Chelo Kebab, Stuffed Camel and more. While lean protein is generally good for you (and great for those who work out regularly), it’s still important to look at what else is on the plate. Watch out for sugary sauces and starchy side dishes that often go overlooked when placing your order.

Keeping healthy

Clearly, the flavors of Dubai are both rich and varied, and now you hopefully have an idea of which dishes you can enjoy on special occasions, and which you can regularly to maintain a healthy diet. In addition, it’s not always about what you are eating as it is how much of it you eat. Keeping track of your daily calories and managing your portions will go a long way to ensuring that your waistband isn’t expanding in perpetuity.

Coincidentally, the end of Ramadan this year also signals the beginning of the Dubai Health Authorities healthcare reform that now requires every single individual in the Emirate to be covered by a private health insurance plan, and for good reason. While preventive care and healthy living should be the focus for all of us in the UAE, there inevitably comes a time in the life of some when diseases like those mentioned previously in this article will catch up. This is when it will be imperative to have a high-quality healthcare plan that can address the potential costs of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

Those who have yet to purchase private medical insurance for themselves or their families following the June 30th deadline should fear not, there’s still time. The DHA has stated that it will be giving a 6 month grace period during which no fines will be levied against the uninsured. That means people can still use the services of insurance brokers like UAE Medical Insurance to compare health insurance plans from major insurers in Dubai and receive free price quotations.  Whether you will be eating healthy now or not, it’s certainly in your best interest to prepare for any future health problems that could develop.

Lifesavers: Acknowledging women throughout history that have had major impacts on health and medicine

International Women's Day

It’s International Women’s Day! A day where we not only show appreciation for the women we know that make our lives better each day, but also a moment to educate ourselves on the important contributions made to the world. And there are perhaps no areas that have a broader effect on the lives of people worldwide than those of healthcare and medical science. With this in mind, Pacific Prime would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the most profound contributions to health and wellbeing worldwide that we have only seen due to the direct contribution of some of the most dedicated and thoughtful women ever to have lived. This list is by no means exhaustive, and great work is being done by women in health and medical science still, but most will agree that the following women deserve to be recognized and remembered for their tireless work.

Mary Ellen Avery

A pioneer in pediatrics, despite contracting Tuberculosis shortly after graduating from medical school, Dr. Avery persevered through the illness and learned more about lung function. This turned into a passion for respiration that she applied to her work with prematurely born infants.  Having single handedly discover the cause behind respiratory distress syndrome in these children, a treatment was devised for the ailment that is estimated to have saved the lives of over 840,000 people thus far.

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi

At the pinnacle of the AIDS epidemic in America during the 1980s, the medical community was still at a loss for what exactly was causing the disease. Dr. Francoise Barre-Sinoussi was the first of many scientists researching the disease to identify the elusive HIV retrovirus. This excellent work has lead to Barre-Sinoussi being credited with saving over 2 million lives. She was awarded with the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2008.

Clara Barton

Forced into service by the Civil War, Clara Barton was a patent clerk-turned-nurse that was known as America’s “angel of the battlefield” by the time all was said and done. This is because, after recognizing shortages of medical supplies on the battlefield and organizing to have this remedied, she also led the initiative to treat the sick and wounded soldiers there. To put a fine point on how prolific her work was, Clara Barton was also the founder of the American Red Cross in 1881, and the group’s leader until 1904.

Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell is known as a trailblazer simply by virtue of being the first ever female medical doctor in the United States in 1849 (which, assuredly, was actually not a simple thing to achieve). Today in the United States, half of medical school grads are women; A figure that can be appreciated thanks in part to the work of Dr. Blackwell. The funny thing is, Blackwell did not even want to be a doctor for most of her life. Working as a teacher, she turned to medicine only after a dying friend confided in Elizabeth that her suffering would have been greatly diminished if only her doctor was a woman.

Marie Curie

A Polish chemist, Marie Curie, along with her husband, invented a way to harness the power of X-rays, and apply them to healthcare. She was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize, and remains the only woman to have won two Nobel prizes. She is also one of only 4 people to win the Nobel Prize in two separate categories (chemistry and physics). The awards are well deserved seeing as countless lives have been improved thanks to the medical technology the Curies developed together.

Dorothea Dix

As much as we feel that mentally ill patients slip through the cracks today, in Dorothea Dix’s day there was absolutely no help for them in the US. However, thanks to her work, the first wave of American mental health facilities was established. In addition to the mentally ill, her career also focused on helping and promoting the rights of others who were often forgotten by society, namely prisoners and the disabled.

Grace Eldering  and Pearl Kendrick

Both of these ladies were stricken with whooping cough by the age of five. Due to this fact, you could perhaps say that it was revenge that allowed the pair to change the world. At the height of the disease, it was responsible for over 6,000 mortalities a year inside of Eldering and Kendrick’s home country of the United States. However, using their backgrounds in science and medicine, the pair were able to develop a vaccine that sent incidences of whooping cough tumbling rapidly by the 1960s. As a result, these women have been credited with saving over 13 million lives today.

Gertrude Belle Elion

Even though she never earned a PhD thanks to attitudes about women in academia around the time of the Great Depression, Gertrude Belle Elion did not let that stop her from learning all she could about cancer after seeing her grandfather pass away as a result of the disease. Undaunted by society’s unspoken rules, Elion went on to create the first major drug used to fight leukemia, and developed 45 treatments to aid in battling cancer. Also, she, along with Dr. George Hitchings, developed Rational Drug Design, which was a process for researching and inventing new pharmaceuticals. This methodology was later used to develop drugs such as the popular AIDS medicine AZT. Elion capped her career by winning a Nobel Prize in 1988.

Alice Catherine Evans

Thanks to her hard work as the first permanent female scientist to be hired by the US Department of Agriculture, Evans found that infections carried by cows could cause illness in humans. This research lead to milk pasteurization laws being put in place that are still keeping populations around the world healthy today.

Rosalind Elsie Franklin

Franklin’s work led to the discovery of the double-helix model of our DNA as we know it today. Following her death, her colleagues James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins later went on to win the Nobel Prize thanks in large part to her efforts. Rosalind Franklin was also well known for her trailblazing work on X-ray diffraction.

Alice Hamilton

In academia, Alice Hamilton holds the distinction of being the first woman appointed to Harvard University’s faculty. Beyond this, Hamilton’s impact has been long lasting, as she was a pioneer in identifying environmentally hazardous materials as also having a negative effect on human health. Thanks to her, workers around the world today are (or at least should be) working in safe and regulated conditions.

Ann Holloway and Anna Mitus

Perhaps the women in medical history who have helped save more lives than any others. Their work as part of the team that developed a vaccine for measles has led to the prevention of over 118 million deaths. Working closely with John Enders on the project, Holloway also previously assisted him in developing a vaccine for polio, for which Enders won the Nobel Prize.

Mary-Claire King

Geneticist Mary-Claire King discovered the genetic marker for breast cancer when the popular thought was that the disease was caused by a random series of environmental and genetic factors. Her research led to the discovery of the exact chromosome (chromosome 17) and gene (BRCA-1) responsible for breast cancer.

Florence Nightingale

Despite belonging to a wealthy family, Florence Nightingale felt an attraction to helping others through nursing early on in her life. Once educated, she was flung into the Crimean War and put on a path towards her now legendary status. Noting dreadful hygienic conditions in medical treatment areas, Nightingale was able to reorganize operations in a way that drastically improved medical outcomes. After the war ended, she proliferated the same ideas by founding her own nursing school that then paved the way for modern nursing techniques.

Eleanor Roosevelt

It is expected of the First Lady today to spearhead sweeping health initiatives in the United States. However, this trend began with Eleanor Roosevelt. As the head of the UN Human Rights Commission in 1948 and one of the authors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Roosevelt ensured that access to health care was considered a fundamental human right.

Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger is the original champion of reproductive rights. In addition to being a nurse, she spent her career as an advocate for birth control (even popularizing the term), as well as a sex educator. Mind you, this was in the 19th century, when the public’s tolerance for such ideas was low to say the least. Nevertheless, Sanger went on to open the United States’ first birth control clinic. Other organizations she founded later became what is known today as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Rachel Schneerson

In partnership with John Robbins, Schneerson developed a vaccine for Haemophilus Influenzae type b, also known as Hib. While many people may not be familiar with this type of bacteria, they no doubt will be more familiar with the bacterial meningitis that it causes. Since the development of the vaccine Hib disease has been practically eliminated throughout developed nations, which is believed to have saved the lives of 660,000+ lives.

Rosalyn Sussman Yalow

Rosalyn Sussman Yalow developed the procedures that have allowed for screening out infectious diseases from blood donations, thereby preventing the spread of many illnesses through blood transfusions. Although she was a physicist, she won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1977.

Tu Youyou

This Chinese teacher and chemist was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2015 for her work in discovering dihydroartemisinin and atemisinin. For the layman, these are pharmaceuticals used to treat Malaria all around the world. Her work has already saved millions of people from dying of the disease.

This informative article is brought to you by Pacific Prime Insurance Brokers; providers of international health insurance plans that provide high quality medical insurance coverage virtually anywhere in the world. Contact one of our sales agents today to find out more about the plans we can provide through some of the world’s best insurance companies, and get a free plan quote.

Should we be worried about MERS?

In the first week of June one of the top stories carried by almost every news agency was centered on MERS. In Greater China the news centered on one man who flew from South Korea to Hong Kong after being exposed to the disease and subsequently entering mainland China, exposing people in both Hong Kong and Southern China to the disease. Beyond that, MERS seems to have caused a massive scare in South Korea, where CNN reported that on June 4 the government closed over 900 schools and as of June 5 over 1,300 people were in quarantine with 35 people actually having the disease and four dead, with all figures expected to rise – possibly exponentially.

This reaction is similar to that seen in Hong Kong during the 2009 swine flu epidemic that swept through the city, causing schools to close early and widespread near panic. The thing is, MERS is not exactly well known in this part of the world, and a number of clients have called us asking if they should be worried, as well as if their insurance will cover any MERS related illness. To help, we have come up with this brief guide that looks at what MERS is, whether it’s as serious as news agencies are making it out to be, and how insurance companies will cover it.

Define MERS

MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), according to the CDC, “Is an illness caused by a virus (more specifically, a coronavirus) called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).” This virus is in the same family as that of the common cold and SARS, and was first discovered in 2012 – with the first officially recorded case coming from Saudi Arabia.

To date, almost all of the cases can be traced back to the Middle East, including the latest outbreak in South Korea and subsequently China and Hong Kong. In this case, the first patient had traveled to the Middle East and became sick after he returned. His son was exposed and then visited both Hong Kong and southern China potentially exposing passengers who sat near him and maybe even others who have had contact with him while he has been quarantined in a hospital in China.

Because MERS is part of the coronavirus family, the symptoms are often similar to those of the common cold, only more severe. According to the WHO (World Health Organization), “The clinical spectrum of MERS-CoV infection ranges from no symptoms (asymptomatic) or mild respiratory symptoms to severe acute respiratory disease and death. A typical presentation of MERS-CoV disease is fever, cough and shortness of breath. Pneumonia is a common finding, but not always present. Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, have also been reported.”

With a death rate estimated by the WHO to be around 36% of all cases, and an increase in the number of cases in the past couple of months, it has many in Asia (especially China and Hong Kong, both of which have a dense population) worried.

Is MERS as serious as it’s made out to be?

This can be a hard question to answer, largely because we aren’t trained medical professionals, and partly because it can often be tough to decipher the severity of an incident from news articles alone. In our research, we have found that this is a serious enough issue to spark cities like Hong Kong to implement warnings and increase screenings at points of entry so as to hopefully be prepared for any outbreak.

According to the WHO, “The virus appears to cause more severe disease in older people, people with weakened immune systems, and those with chronic diseases such as cancer, chronic lung disease and diabetes.” Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how this virus is transmitted, but it appears that the vast majority of cases currently stem from people who have been exposed to it while caring for others in the hospital. From what is known about MERS, transmission is normally due to close contact with an infected person and human-to-human transmission is not sustainable as long as precautions are implemented.

These precautions, according to the CDC, include standard cold and flu prevention (washing hands frequently, covering your mouth and nose, staying home when sick, avoiding contact with sick people, and cleaning surfaces touched by sick people on a regular basis. If these steps are followed – especially the avoiding of close contact with sick people – then we should see this disease managed.

If you believe you have been in contact with someone who has recently traveled to the Middle East and start to get sick, it would be a good idea to see a doctor as soon as possible.

Will insurance cover me if I get MERS?

You should be covered with almost all plans purchased through Pacific Prime largely because there’s a good chance you are not putting yourself at risk of contracting MERS (e.g., visiting the Middle East on a regular basis). Even if you do travel to the Middle East, you should still be covered as long as you have an international plan which includes coverage in that region. It would, however, be a good idea to check the documentation that came with your plan to make sure there are no exclusions for MERS.

In fact, we recommend contacting one of the insurance experts here at Pacific Prime. We can help you go through your plan and recommend options or other plans if need be. Contact us today.

Transgender Health Care and Insurance

Across international news, we’ve been hearing the word ‘transgender’ a lot more. Some states in America are passing transgender bathroom bills to make public facilities more (or less) inclusive. The Amazon series Transparent picked up its first Golden Globe, and in March even Pope Francis set aside some time to meet with Diego Neria Lejárraga, a Catholic man rejected from his local church after sex reassignment surgery.

Transgender means a person’s gender expression doesn’t match their biological sex. Diego Neria Lejárraga (who, by the way, was welcomed into the Catholic church with open arms by Pope Francis) was born a woman. People who are transgender usually say that while growing up, they never identified with their sex, often experiencing a feeling of having been born into the wrong body. When the choice becomes available, many opt to take hormones or undergo sexual reassignment surgery in order to change their sex. The problem is, any reassignment surgery can be expensive. Many who turn to insurance for coverage may find some roadblocks.

Continue Reading…

10 Reasons Why Fall is the Best Season of Them All

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Sure the weather is cooling down, your swimsuit isn’t hanging on the balcony ready for action at anytime, and you may even have dipped into your winter wardrobe once or twice for a long-sleeved shirt or a pair of fuzzy jogging pants: but that’s no reason to cry about the end of summer.

A new, arguably even better season has only just begun, and it’s got as much and more to offer as its predecessor. Here are 10 ways to get cozy this season, so cozy that the pleasures of summer may just fade into a distant memory. Continue Reading…

ALS: What You Need to Know

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Wait – why are people dumping buckets of ice water over their heads and posting the videos to social media?

Because: ALS. It’s a degenerative disease affecting the nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord, eventually leading to loss of motor control throughout the whole body. In the later stages of ALS (which stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and may also be known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a patient is paralyzed and will experience difficulty breathing and swallowing – factors which contribute to the high fatality rates amongst ALS patients.

The Ice Bucket Challenge asks celebrities – and indeed anyone – to drench themselves in ice water and publish the video, to raise awareness of ALS. Participants are also encouraged to donate to ALS research, and Time Magazine has reported that the Ice Bucket Challenge has already brought in more than US$50 million for the ALS Association.

All this ALS buzz is great for improving general knowledge and medical research, but it’s got some people wondering: what’s my ALS risk? If I become an ALS patient, will insurance cover my care? Should I take steps to protect myself right now? Continue Reading…

Oral Hygiene: Getting to The Mouth of the Problem

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Most of us have grown up being instructed over and over by our parents, dentists and teachers to brush our teeth twice a day, to floss daily and that sweets will rot our teeth. We probably took that advice with a grain of salt (or perhaps ignored it completely in our youth) but we can agree that this is all sound advice to foster healthy teeth and gums. What most of us may not know is just how much the health of our teeth affects the rest of our body and overall health. Everyone wants their teeth to look and feel nice but they are also important to speaking, eating and avoiding bad breath and pain. And it’s not just our teeth. Gum, tongue and overall mouth health are equally important. Here we’ll let you know the risks of letting your oral hygiene suffer and what you can do to prevent it. Continue Reading…