x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Private companies in UAE joining in battle to fight Mers

Dr Salwan Ibrahim, Middle East medical director for International SOS, a company of experts in global health issues, said the centre in Dubai had received an influx of calls from employers in the UAE and other regional countries.

Workers wear masks at a farm outside Riyadh. Saudi Arabia has urged the public to wear masks and gloves around camels, a possible source of Mers, to avoid spreading the disease. Fayez Nureldine / AFP
Workers wear masks at a farm outside Riyadh. Saudi Arabia has urged the public to wear masks and gloves around camels, a possible source of Mers, to avoid spreading the disease. Fayez Nureldine / AFP

ABU DHABI // A surge in new Mers cases has led the private sector to take more precautions to stem the possible spread of the deadly coronavirus, a health expert says.

Dr Salwan Ibrahim, Middle East medical director for International SOS, a company of experts in global health issues, said the centre in Dubai had received an influx of calls from employers in the UAE and other regional countries.

They were concerned about the recent rise in infections and asked for guidance on measures to put in place to minimise risk to their employees.

“Alongside the surge in Mers cases that occurred in April, we can see that organisations are beginning to take the necessary precautions to fulfill their duty of care to their employees living in and travelling to the region,” he said.

“Alongside the incoming calls, we are working with a number of clients to assess their outbreak business continuity and pandemic plans.”

Dr Ibrahim welcomed businesses taking responsibility for the welfare of their employees.

“Businesses are taking their duty of care seriously and ensuring they are taking a proactive approach to ensure their workforce operates safely and responsibly in the region, in line with the guidance of the relevant health authorities.”

Dr Ibrahim said it was important that companies helped raise awareness of the disease and educated their employees on basic infection control.

“Although there is no indication from the authorities that Mers can be spread easily from human to human, clients are being proactive in working with International SOS to review their outbreak business continuity and pandemic plans,” he said.

“All corporation and private companies are advised to be proactive in putting in place plans for managing the possible outbreaks. This is not only to ensure business continuity but also to raise the awareness of their employees to the best recommended infection prevention and control methods, as well as keeping them updated with the most up-to-date information about the virus status.”

The UAE has had 37 lab-confirmed Mers cases since late March, all in Abu Dhabi, with more than two-thirds being healthcare workers. Most of those recently infected had mild symptoms or none at all.

Worldwide, Mers has infected at least 536 people and killed 145 since its first known case was discovered in 2012.

The number of Mers cases has almost doubled in recent months, with by far the most being in Saudi Arabia. Recent cases in Abu Dhabi make the UAE the second most prevalent country for the disease.

It prompted the World Health Organisation (WHO) to call for an emergency meeting, staged in Geneva on Tuesday, to convene its experts and representatives of affected countries to discuss whether the deadly Mers coronavirus is a public health emergency of international concern.

Dr Ibrahim said the flurry of new cases should not cause undue concern.

“While there has been a spike in the number of reported cases in recent weeks, it is important to recognise that the tracing and diagnosis methods have also changed; we are now seeing early and active case detection and that inevitably leads to an increase in the number of reported cases,” he said.

“That said, businesses are right to be taking the necessary precautions. We are calling on all clients to ensure their employees – based internationally, as well as the Middle East – have the information they need to minimise the risk of infection, such as frequent hand washing, use of hand sanitisers, avoiding direct contact with live animals and their environment and ensuring any food or drink for consumption is thoroughly washed, peeled, boiled and cooked.”

He said International SOS, the WHO and other health authorities were urging vigilance in all Middle East countries to prevent further outbreaks of the deadly disease.

To date, the affected countries in the Middle East include Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Yemen; in Africa: Egypt and Tunisia; in Europe: France, Germany, Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom; in Asia: Malaysia and the Philippines; and in North America.

About 65 per cent of Mers cases have been male and the average age of patients is 49. About 27 per cent of those infected have died.

Symptoms include fever, shortness of breath and coughing. People with underlying conditions or chronic diseases seem to be more prone to developing more severe conditions, such as renal failure and pneumonia.

As yet, there is no cure for Mers and treatment is supportive.

jbell@thenational.ae