Tuesday, 2024-04-02

A Collective and Integrated Response

Coronavirus COVID-19 has become the biggest public health priority for governments all around the world.  The WHO has urged all countries to work towards aggressive preparedness, calling on every nation to act with speed, scale and clear-minded determination.

Few countries, if any, have provided more resources per capita than the UAE.  The UAE’s leadership has invested in refurbished and new high-tech infrastructure to support the management of COVID-19 patients.  Early on during the coronavirus outbreak, it was reported that while the UAE had screened more than 10,000 patients, the USA had only completed 1,000.  This demonstrates the country’s proactive efforts in adopting preventive measures to help contain the virus spread.  Moreover, the nation has shut down schools, temporarily closed tourist attractions and entertainment facilities, as well as limited air travel.  Through social distancing, fastidious hand washing and other preventative measures, we will be able to contain this pandemic, delay the virus transmission and ultimately treat those affected more effectively.

Over my 30 plus years as a health executive, I have practiced medicine across various healthcare systems and have had the honour of advising policy makers.  Through this experience, perhaps the biggest takeaway from similar situations is that collaboration, responsiveness and transparency are vital in managing outbreaks of this scale. Working with international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has therefore been an important component of the UAE’s response. This has included offering unprecedented support locally while also providing global assistance to effectively manage the situation.

As part of SEHA’s efforts, we have worked to share data and collaborate with authorities to more quickly understand the virus.  SEHA has also designated three Ambulatory Health Services (AHS) as screening clinics, established a drive-through for COVID-19 screening, and implemented new pathways to triage patients with flu-like or respiratory illness symptoms in emergency and outpatient facilities.  SEHA is presently screening anywhere between 1,500 to 2,000 people a day.

Additionally, SEHA has activated its command and control centre, and has established an advisory board to provide expert medical advice and guidance. This complements the Department of Health’s ongoing initiatives and awareness campaigns to ensure the public has all the information they need to protect themselves and prevent the spread of the virus.  Response to a pandemic is necessarily a whole of government approach, and is not limited to just the healthcare sector.  As such, SEHA is collaborating with both private and public relevant stakeholders to optimally manage this pandemic.

But behind all these approaches there must also be an understanding of the human behaviour. We must focus on the most effective ways to communicate with the general public to ensure the right protective actions are taken, balanced against the need for day to day life to continue.  Straight forward tips therefore play a big role here and it’s worth reminding ourselves of the most effective precautionary measures.  Encourage the community to adopt what has become known as ‘social distancing’ – avoiding gatherings of people and making sure contact is limited. Practice good hand hygiene – frequent handwashing with warm water and soap (for at least 20 seconds) or using hand sanitizer as an alternative (alcohol content ³ 60%).  Cover your mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or with a tissue when sneezing or coughing, and discard tissues into a bin immediately followed by hand hygiene.  Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth is also important.

With the number of COVID-19 patient cases increasing exponentially, it is critical that each individual adopts such effective measures to prevent the spread of the virus.  As we look ahead, working proactively with all the international and local authorities is central to SEHA’s approach. We must continue in these efforts and support the front-line healthcare workers who are the backbone to the nation’s response to the virus.

My hope is that these measures will help us get through these challenges quickly. When we look back, I also hope this experience will enable us to learn from the collective, international response so we can continue to improve our ability to respond to situations like these in the future.