DUBAI // A high-tech lab company more accustomed to testing concrete and factory air quality is working to protect people who pray in mosques from the risk of infection.
Teams from Geoscience Testing Laboratory are visiting mosques and checking for harmful bacteria in carpets as part of a community initiative.
Mary Jane Alvero-Al Mahdi, the company's chief executive, said worshippers could easily pick up a bug while prostrating, and children were particularly at risk.
"I asked an official in charge of a mosque how sure was he that the carpet was not infected with bacteria," Ms Alvero-Al Mahdi said.
"People take off their slippers and there is a chance of bacterial contamination.
"Some people cough and sneeze and it lands on the carpet. Some parasites, also, could be in the carpet. And the vacuum cleaner they are using, are they sure it is not infected with bacteria?
"So I made a study, I did a swab analysis and we found there was bacteria. So now, we visit mosques and check the carpets.
"We do it for free. Every month we choose five mosques to do swab testing."
Some areas of carpet are found to be free of bacteria, but others are infected and must be replaced.
The company suspended the checks while moving to new premises in Dubai Industrial City but now plans to increase the testing.
Ms Alvero-Al Mahdi, a Muslim from the Philippines, said she planned to eventually carry out checks at every mosque in Dubai.
"This is one way of caring for the community," she said.
"We want to open their eyes and make sure they're not be too confident that it's a mosque so it will be clean.
"A lot of people are coming in and out of the mosque and we don't know if they are sick."
Tests are also being carried out on drinking fountains at mosques. So far no bacteria have been found in the drinking water. Air monitoring in one mosque also produced an all-clear.
Tanzifco, which provides cleaning services to almost 500 mosques in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Bani Yas, has given training to its staff, stressing the importance of hygiene.
"The sanctity of a prayer area ought to be maintained," said Ali Deryan, Tanzifco's general manager. "One of the ways to pay our obeisance is to maintain cleanliness and neatness."