Volume 2022 Number 3
  • EISSN: 2223-506X


On April 9 and 10, 2022, over 79 scholars and 230 attendees met online to share their research on the health and medical humanities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region at the 2nd International Conference on the Medical Humanities in the Middle East (online). This meeting was the second convening of experts since the successful 2018 in-person conference in Doha, Qatar at the Sheraton Hotel. The 2022 conference was jointly sponsored by VCUArts Qatar and Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar, and was convened by Drs. Alan Weber, Byrad Yyelland, and Mohamud Verjee. The diversity and increase in submissions from 2018 to 2022 testify to the growing importance of humanism in medicine in the region. The published abstracts in this special issue of provide a comprehensive overview of the medical and health humanities as they are currently practiced and researched in the Middle East region. For example, the first keynote speech, “Is the Beauty Industry a Virus Invading the Medical Profession?” by Iraqi surgeon and visual artist Dr. Ala Bashir, addressed a critical issue in the region, the growing popularity of cosmetic surgery and the unlicensed and unregulated nature of the industry.

The second keynote speech by health humanities professor Paul Crawford (University of Nottingham) entitled “Towards Creative Public Health: The Contribution of the Medical and Health Humanities,” provided an overview of recent international initiatives to harness the arts for health education, healing, and wellness. The other presentations from researchers in Kuwait, UK, Jordan, US, Turkey, Israel, Iran, Qatar, Iraq, UAE, India, and Egypt represented the full range of the medical and health humanities that are developing internationally, including the history of medicine, medical sociology and anthropology, narrative medicine, literature and medicine, graphic medicine, healthcare communications, art therapy, the visual arts, film and medicine, and medical ethics. In addition, a panel of premedical and medical students led by Maryam Arabi and Abdallah Tom provided their perspectives on the topic with respect to the educational needs of students. A group of gerontology experts composed of Mark Clarfield, Regina Roller-Wirnsberger, and Desmond O'Neill directed a workshop on publishing research on the health and medical humanities in scientific scholarly journals. Authors Shahd Alshammari and Robin Fetherston gave dramatic readings from their fiction and non-fiction works. Three posters published on the website added to the oral presentations (https://qatar-weill.cornell.edu/event/medical-humanities-in-the-middle-east/posters).

Three of the oral presentations spoke to ethics in medical humanities within the Middle East. Banu Buruk and Berna Arda shared the Turkish National Artificial Intelligence Strategy (TNAIS) report which describes methods for determining and initiating national priorities related to AI. This report identifies four ethical values and eight ethical principles worthy of examination since almost one in five AI strategies are applied in the health sciences. The authors discussed TNAIS and concomitant ethical issues, concluding with recommendations for dealing with conflicts as they arise. Alya Al Shakaki then presented on ethical questions related to use of the gene-editing tool, CRISPR-Cas9, which enables “designer babies”. CRISPR has been used in China to create babies that are immune to HIV and thereby able to create offspring with similar immunities; however, what happens to individual autonomy in such cases? Scholars of Islamic bioethics ask two questions: which cells will be edited and what is the aim of the editing? Editing confined to one individual without affecting the offspring is considered acceptable but human dignity must be protected. Fahad Ahmed, Yazgı Beriy Altun Güzelderen and Sefik Yurdakul shared their research on publications written by Turkish authors that have been retracted from scientific journals. In a study of PubMEd, Scopus and Web of Science databases, they identified 147 publications that had been removed due to duplication and irrelevant studies.

Six presentations were related to the history of medicine in the Middle East. Dmitry Balalykin tied the apodictic method (the method of rational and rigorous proof), typically accepted as the method of knowledge in the natural sciences, to the development of medicine as seen in anatomical dissections, clinical systematization and general pathology in Greek and medieval Islamic medicine. Balalykin cited Galen and Muhammad ibn Zakariya as pivotal influences. Katarzyna Gromek then discussed the history of perfumes as medical agents in early Islamic states; for example, scenting clothes, mostly undergarments, shirts, dresses, and bed linens, was also thought to increase therapeutic health effects, both in the sick and healthy. Fatima Saadatmand continued the historical discussion with a look at mystical applications of arithmetic, Ariṯmāṭῑqῑ in Arabic, in treating disease throughout the 9th to 13th centuries through an examination of ancient texts and modern writings.

Abdulnaser Kaadan’s historical research moves us into the writings of Avicenna (Ibn Sina) related to the diagnosis and treatment of breast lesions and the relevance of this historical work to current medicine. Amanda Caterina Leong then shared her work on the writings of Qajar Iranian Princess Taj al-Saltana in 19th century Iran, who discussed systemic challenges in reactions to Iran’s cholera epidemic and subsequent health care perils related to a corrupt patriarchy. Leong connected this work to current governmental handlings of COVID-19 issues. Finally, Forozan Falahatpishe examined the invisibility of autopsy within Islamic medicine. Of interest to mystics, theologians and philosophers as well as physicians, the autopsy has been historically avoided within the Avestan (ancient Iranian) approach to Islamic medicine because it has been perceived as a violation against the sanctity of the human body. Nevertheless, surgery has thrived within the Islamic world.

Art therapy in the Gulf was well represented by two full panels, one of which presented by Trish Bedford, Mowafa Househ, and Dr. Jens Schneider surveyed current art therapy practices including development of an art therapy app for making initial assessments powered by AI. In addition, Michelle Dixon, Natalia Gómez Carlier, Sara Powell, Mariam El-Halawani, and Alan Weber detailed in the paper, "Art Therapy Service Provision during the COVID-19 Pandemic in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)" how services provision shifted abruptly to online telehealth. Natalia Gómez Carlier and Sara Powell additionally reported on their art therapy pilot dyadic (parent/caregiver and child) telemedicine program for children living with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

In a panel dedicated to healthcare communications, one paper described the best practices in communication skills with visually impaired patients (Dr. Nahla Khalaf Ali, Dr. Abdulsalam S. Sultan, Muna Hameed Faris, Muna Muneer Ahmed, Mohammed Modar Hameed, and Dr. Marab younis Abdullah Al-Fathy). A paper by Raji Anand and Dr. Sohaila Cheema included usage data that demonstrated that digital tools such as Mailchimp direct-mail campaigns can effectively promote positive public health behaviors. Another successful intervention for public health awareness was described in the panel "On Film and Medicine: Reflections on ‘Medfest Egypt’, an international ‘film for health’ forum," chaired by Khalid Ali, Mina El Naggar, and Robert Abrams.

Gatherings such as the 2nd International Conference on the Medical Humanities in the Middle East are designed to share the latest research findings among area experts, to help form new research collaborations, and to encourage translational medicine projects in which insights and pilot and full-scale studies of the medical and health humanities can be harnessed to revise medical education curricula, improve training for health sciences students, enhance clinical practice and ultimately improve patient outcomes to create more equitable, satisfying, and effective healthcare systems. Additionally, medical and health experiences can form the basis of artistic expression since health, disease, and illness represent key milestones in the universal life course.


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