BAHRAIN will become the first country in the region to launch an online survey to assess the health of the nation.
The Health Ministry wants to uncover the prevalence of non-communicable diseases and the risks of unhealthy living.
It signed an agreement yesterday with a US firm to carry out the survey, covering both Bahrainis and expatriates, through social networking sites.
The memorandum of understanding with Zarca Interactive paves the way for periodic research that could shape the nation's health policy.
"The periodic online research will help determine priorities to draw a roadmap in developing plans, programmes, policies and strategies," said Health Ministry Under-Secretary Dr Aysha Mubarak Buaneq.
She was speaking at a Press conference yesterday at the ministry's offices in Juffair, along with Zarca Interactive Middle East and Africa head Javed Farooqui.
Dr Buaneq said the ministry's Health Promotion Directorate would prepare a special questionnaire for respondents, which would cover different areas.
"The ministry will also have access to use and review more than 13 types of analytical reports," she added.
"This will help in evaluation of educational campaigns and the survey will be published online through new websites or the e-government portal," Dr Buaneq said.
Also present at yesterday's meeting was health promotion director Dr Amal Al Jowder, who said questionnaires were now being prepared.
"The questionnaire will cover NCDs and general health and fitness as part of the survey," she said.
NCDs are classified as diabetes, cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular ailments.
Dr Al Jowder explained that questionnaires, once completed, would be reviewed by Zarca Interactive officials.
"We will empower the Health Ministry in Bahrain to collect, analyse and evaluate the effectiveness of health educational campaigns in real time," explained Mr Farooqui.
"With Internet penetration of more than 88 per cent and more than 300,000 active Facebook users, along with rising numbers of tweets from users in Bahrain, it will be easier to reach the masses online."
He added that respondents would remain anonymous.
"Respondents will receive an online invitation with a link which directs them to the questionnaire and they can respond in different languages such as Mandarin, Hindi, Urdu and others," he said.
He said the ministry would be notified of any alarming trends.
"The feedback, once collected, will be analysed and if there is any alarming trend then the ministry can be informed," added Mr Farooqui.
"The findings of the survey will help Bahrain plan policies and campaigns to accomplish their goals."
He said the company had conducted independent health and fitness studies across the GCC for the past three years, with more than 50 clients in the region.
"Our next step is to build the Health and Fitness Awareness Index for GCC States that will help them measure the trend and awareness of health habits," said Mr Farooqui.
In February, Zarca Interactive released the results of a survey that found people in Bahrain were getting healthier - with 84 per cent of people eating breakfast on a daily basis, compared with just 69pc in 2010.
Half of the respondents were also eating organic food, although a third of expatriates said that was unimportant to them.
A total of 300 people were interviewed as part of the study, 63pc of whom were Bahraini, more than 34pc were Asian and three per cent Western expats.