x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

UAE colleges preparing for onset of swine flu

Most institutions, unable to provide quarantine areas or screen everyone, are telling staff and students to stay away if they feel ill.

Dr Balasubramani Ramjee, the director of Manipal University in Dubai, says they have taken all preventive measures to tackle swine flu.
Dr Balasubramani Ramjee, the director of Manipal University in Dubai, says they have taken all preventive measures to tackle swine flu.

As students start heading back after their summer breaks, universities are preparing to cope with potential outbreaks of swine flu. One institution has even set aside a quarantine area in each dormitory for students suspected of having the virus.

While some institutions have begun screening, including the University of Sharjah, most are simply trying to make their staff and students aware of the symptoms, so that potential victims of the H1N1 pandemic can be quickly identified. At most universities, the new academic year begins next month, although at some centres students have already started to return. Many will have travelled abroad during the holiday period, increasing their risk of exposure to the virus.

Dr Balasubramani Ramjee, the director of Manipal University at Dubai International Academic City (DIAC), said posters advising of the risks and symptoms were being put up around the university. "The number [of students] on DIAC is huge - about 5,000 mixed with each other. We cannot screen the students. We don't have the medical facilities," he said. "We take all preventive measures, but we don't want to cause undue alarm. If we do find somebody, we will have to ask that individual to be quarantined. If there is a multiple outbreak, we may need to reschedule exams or classes."

Nearby, at Heriot-Watt University, the executive dean, Prof Brian Smart, said students would be told not to be afraid to take time off if they felt ill."If this thing does hit big and disrupts personal study or the campus, no one should suffer academically," he said. Officials at Al Hosn University in Abu Dhabi said any students who felt ill or had flu-like symptoms were being asked to stay away. In addition, Prof Abdul Sabouni, the vice chancellor and chief executive, said ventilation in classrooms was being improved in the hope of curtailing the spread of the virus from any students who were infected.

Each dormitory at the American University of Sharjah will have a room set aside for individuals suspected to have swine flu, said Dr Peter Heath, the chancellor. Students with their own rooms who are thought to be contagious will be asked to remain in them. The university is also putting information about swine flu on its website, and e-mailing students to encourage them to check it. New students will be informed about the risks at the university's start-of-term orientation.

Dr Heath said screening was impractical, as every student and staff member would have to be checked every day for it to be foolproof. Security staff at Zayed University are being told to look out for potential swine flu victims, said Dr Bob Cryan, the associate provost. Students will also be given leaflets, and encouraged to share them with relatives, especially those who take them to lectures. Cleaning staff have been told to be extra thorough in their work.

"We have a team of people that is working on publishing a short plan that will be distributed to the students and faculty by the end of next week," Dr Cryan added. dbardsley@thenational.ae