U.S. Team Explores Gulf War Study

WASHINGTON, January 29, 1999 (GulfLINK) - A U. S. interagency team is working with Saudi Arabian National Guard personnel to conduct a study of health outcomes among Saudi Arabian National Guard and their family members to better understand possible health consequences of the Gulf War.

Capt. Michael Kilpatrick, director of medical outreach and issues, office of the special assistant for Gulf War illnesses, traveled with a team of U.S. epidemiologist researchers to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in August 1998 and met Dr. Fahad Abdul Jabbar, the chief executive officer, health affairs, Saudi Arabian National Guard.

"The purpose of the trip was to discuss the feasibility of using the Saudi National Guard health database to examine whether changes had occurred in the health status of the Guard or their families since the Gulf War," said Kilpatrick.

Researchers from the Uniformed Services University for Health Sciences, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Naval Health Research Center are involved in the collaborative effort initiated by the office of the special assistant.

The invitation to return to Saudi Arabia was extended to Bernard Rostker, special assistant for Gulf War illnesses, and his team when they met with Saudi Arabian National Guard officials during a Gulf War coalition fact-finding trip in November 1997. At that time, Saudi Arabian officials indicated they had not observed any change in the medical condition of their Gulf War veterans.

"We wanted to compare the hospitalization rate for members of the Saudi National Guard who were on duty during the Gulf War," said Kilpatrick, "and then take a look at trends for them before the Gulf War and after. If data is available, we'll look at family members also. We want to see if there were any changes in disease processes or frequency of diseases that require hospitalization."

In order to proceed with this analysis, the team was given access to the computerized medical hospitalization database located in the King Fahd Hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, he said. The database chronicles every admission to the hospital since 1983, with hospital admission codes indicating the patient's diagnoses and medical procedures done during the admission.

Rostker's team will compare the records of approximately 50,000 Saudi National Guard Gulf War veterans located in three areas during the conflict. Records of personnel who were either engaged in battle with Iraq in northern Saudi Arabia; stationed at Al Jubayl, an industrial city south of the Saudi Arabian-Kuwaiti border; or located at Riyadh, where a Scud missile attack occurred, will be included in the study.

Researchers intend to compare these three geographically distinct groups to determine if there are any differences, such as the frequency of hospital admissions. They will have access to the age, gender and other population demographics of the individuals who were admitted to the hospital, but the study will not involve contacting any individual patients. Kilpatrick says that, if the data is available, the team will also look at changes in family members' rates of admission or health trends as well.

It is hoped that the benefits of this cooperative effort accrue to both Saudi Arabia and the United States.

"Hopefully our efforts will let us know if the people who lived there [ in Saudi Arabia ] before, during, and after the Gulf War have had any change that is discernable in their health status," said Kilpatrick.

The U.S./Saudi Arabian medical partnership could assist Saudi medical personnel in analyzing the medical specialties needed to care for future Saudi patients.

King Fahd hospital has no research programs involving this hospitalization database; it simply archives the information. The U.S. team expects to demonstrate to hospital personnel how to extract and apply information that may be used for future medical planning requirements.

When the scientific protocol is approved by each participating institution in early 1999, the team will return to King Fahd hospital to extract data and begin the analysis. Kilpatrick projects that the completed study - co-published with the Saudi Arabian National Guard - will be available late in 1999.