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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

UAE develops national Mers coronavirus plan

The Ministry of Health has trained staff across the country on Mers and formed a high committee on pandemic diseases, the FNC has been told.
Abdul Rahman Al Owais, Minister of Health, gives a presentation on the Mers situation, and the country’s response to the coronavirus, at the Federal National Council’s session on June 3, 2014. Silvia Razgova / The National
Abdul Rahman Al Owais, Minister of Health, gives a presentation on the Mers situation, and the country’s response to the coronavirus, at the Federal National Council’s session on June 3, 2014. Silvia Razgova / The National

ABU DHABI // The Ministry of Health has trained staff across the country on Mers and formed a high committee on pandemic diseases, the FNC has been told.

It has set up a national pandemic and coronavirus plan and opened a ministry operations centre to monitor the situation non-stop, Abdul Rahman Al Owais, Minister of Health, said on Tuesday.

Mr Al Owais addressed the FNC to answer questions about the national response to the coronavirus, which has caused more than 200 deaths worldwide.

Sixty-seven cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome have been documented in the UAE since last year, including nine deaths, Mr Al Owais said.

Almost 71 per cent of cases, or 48, have been secondary, meaning they were contracted by someone who had contact with a primary case. Twenty primary cases have been documented.

Health authorities said last month that no patients with Mers remained in UAE hospitals.

Rashid Al Sheraiqi (Ras Al Khaimah) asked about the ministry’s efforts and said there seemed to be a lack of a coordinated response to the new coronavirus, comparing it with efforts during the H1N1 outbreak.

Mr Al Sheraiqi also questioned why health authorities have warned people to take hygienic precautions related to camels when most documented cases are not directly linked to them.

Mr Al Owais said the response to Mers was coordinated and that the question on the link to camels could be something for the food authority to address.

Mr Al Sheraiqi is director general of the Abu Dhabi Food Authority.

An increasing amount of research points to camels as a probable source of the coronavirus, but scientists and health officials still do not know the transmission mode or what exact role the animals play.

Health authorities have advised people to cook camel meat well before eating it and to only drink pasteurised camel milk.

The World Health Organisation has recommended that countries improve national strategies for infection prevention and control, initiate and accelerate investigations into Mers, improve public awareness and risk communication, and strengthen collaboration and information sharing.

“Memos were issued to all medical establishment in the country requiring them to notify confirmed and suspected infection cases and the notification mechanisms,” Mr Al Owais said. “A special memo was issued regarding the strict adherence to infection-control protocols in all local medical establishments to protect medical staff and the public.

“A special technical team was formed to inspect government and private hospitals to ensure safe implementation of control procedures.”

The ministry has trained thousands of health workers in schools and staff in the medical sector, he said.

The higher committee for pandemic diseases is led by the ministry’s assistant under secretary for health centres and clinics.

Included are representatives from the Ministry of Environment and Water; Ministry of Interior; National Emergency, Crisis and Disaster Management Authority; Ports and Borders Security; Dubai Health Authority; and the Health Authority Abu Dhabi.

Mers is a strain of coronavirus, the same type of virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

The UAE has the second most cases, behind Saudi Arabia, where the first case was documented.

The World Health Organisation’s has become more concerned about Mers this year, after an upswing in the number of cases this spring.

But the coronavirus does not yet constitute an international public health emergency because there is no evidence of sustained transmission among humans, the WHO said after a meeting in Geneva last month.

It blamed the outbreaks in part on breaches of recommended infection-control measures, and a rise in primary cases that may be seasonal.

Mers is a respiratory illness whose symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath.

Some patients have also experienced gastrointestinal problems, renal failure and pneumonia.

lcarroll@thenational.ae