Dr. Mariam Matar: A Much Needed Arab Woman Role Model


Dr. Mariam Matar, the Emirati scientist, is one of the UAE’s finest public servants. After working in several public health positions, Matar launched a series of outreach initiatives, including “UAE Free of Thalassemia 2012”. She has also launched the UAE Down’s Syndrome Association in 2005 and the UAE Genetic Diseases Association in 2006, through which she has been able to spread awareness regarding the risks of genetic diseases and specifically Thalassemia(1), which is a common genetic disorder in the UAE.

To know more about her role and contributions in genetic diseases, it is important to differentiate between genetic diseases and hereditary diseases, as all diseases are due to genetic abnormality. To decide whether the disease is hereditary or genetic, the parents of the sick child are screened. If one of them carries the abnormal genes, we can call this a hereditary disease; but, if both of them were normal, the child will be the first generation carrying this abnormality.

Under the leadership of Dr. Matar, the UAE Genetic Diseases Association (UAEGDA) established a database of more than 11,000 Emiratis for the early detection of genetic blood diseases most prevalent in the UAE. The UAEGDA was also able to manufacture a medicinal drug to prevent folic acid deficiency, in addition to launching a free clinic.

Dr. Mariam Matar was the first Emirati woman to hold the title of Undersecretary to the Minister of Health in 2006. In 2014, she was named one of the twenty most influential women in science in the Arab Muslim world. She is currently finishing her PhD research in common blood genetics disease in the UAE from Yamaguchi University in Japan, hoping to collect more data and statistics about prevalence of genetic diseases throughout the UAE.

When asked about having the courage as a female to follow her dreams, Matar said it is very important to have an initiative to show the world that facing the community is easy as you can be a director in general, scientist, or whatever you want by working hard to deserve it. It is you who will decide what you are and how much you will offer to the community. Emirati women are not smarter than the others; however, they are luckier with leadership that believes in women and their role in serving the community by giving them all the opportunities to come forward if they really deserve it.

(1) Thalassemia: an inherited blood disorder in which the body makes an abnormal form of hemoglobin.


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