x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

International experts praise UAE’s Mers coronavirus efforts

A World Health Organisation team and technical partners from the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network spent five days in the UAE assessing the country's response to the virus.

Muslim pilgrims in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, wear surgical masks to avoid being infected with Mers. A World Health Organisation report on Friday praised the UAE's efforts in tackling the virus. AP
Muslim pilgrims in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, wear surgical masks to avoid being infected with Mers. A World Health Organisation report on Friday praised the UAE's efforts in tackling the virus. AP

WHO team makes five-day visit to UAE

International experts and local authorities agree to continued exchange of information in attempt to reduce risk of further infections

ABU DHABI // International infection experts yesterday praised the work of UAE health authorities in attempting to better understand the deadly Mers coronavirus after completing a mission to assess the risk the virus poses to the country.

A team from the World Health Organisation and technical partners from the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network spent five days in the UAE on the invitation of local health chiefs and concluded that there was no evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission.

The visit followed several cases in Abu Dhabi, with 37 lab-confirmed Mers infections between late March and early May.

Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO team leader, said experts met the Minister of Health, Abdul Rahman Al Owais, to discuss the mission and had extensive meetings with experts from Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad), Dubai Health Authority and Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority. He said that the team was impressed with the work done by the local authorities.

“The UAE health authorities have been following up diligently on the Mers cases, including repeated laboratory testing to check when cases have been cleared of the virus. This data will make an important contribution to the risk assessment and to guide the health response internationally,” Mr Embarek said.

The team of six experts in epidemiological research, lab investigations, infection prevention and control and risk communication also visited the hospital to which two thirds of the country’s cases can be traced, to review the epidemiological investigation and assess the infection prevention and control measures.

The WHO team also evaluated the work done on investigating possible exposure routes, transmission patterns and the clinical situation.

“We are impressed by the amount of data and information generated during the investigation of Mers cases by the UAE to help better understand Mers,” Mr Embarek said.

“This knowledge is of utmost importance to the rest of the world to better discover the source of the virus and the routes of transmission from animals to humans.”

“The recent upsurge of cases in Abu Dhabi appears to have been caused by a combination of factors, including a breach in infection prevention and control measures in healthcare settings, active surveillance and increase in community acquired cases,” he said.

Dr Farida Al Hosani, manager of Haad’s communicable diseases department, thanked the team for the visit.

“Fortunately, it was a very positive visit,” she said. “We did a five-day mission with them and I think the overall situation is very positive at this time.”

She said that while there were no longer any cases of Mers in Abu Dhabi hospitals, UAE health bodies wanted to seek guidance from international experts and share the knowledge they have on the virus.

“We thought it was important again to have the input of the WHO by inviting global experts and taking their views about the local situation,” Dr Al Hosani said.

She said Haad and the other health bodies in the UAE would continue to work with the global health organisation should any further cases emerge.

“There will be a continuation of the collaboration between the WHO and other international experts as well,” she said. “In addition, we are providing a wealth of information for other countries from the UAE.”

Dr Al Hosani said the importance now was to minimise the risk of any further cases of Mers emerging in the UAE.

“I think we are still very much emphasising the infection control in hospitals and, yes, fortunately, we do not have any cases. But we need to ensure that the hospitals and practices are really preventing any risk of infection or transmission of Mers. So education of infection-control practices is continuing.”

Symptoms of Mers include fever, coughing and shortness of breath. The disease is caused by a new strain of coronavirus first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

To date, 681 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with Mers have officially been reported to the WHO, which have resulted in 204 deaths.

jbell@thenational.ae