What is the secret to Abu Dhabi's success against Covid-19?

The city has been named the world's best in terms of its response to the pandemic

Recently, it was announced that Abu Dhabi had once again topped the list of the world’s leading cities for its response to the Covid-19 pandemic. London-based analytics consortium Deep Knowledge Group (DKG), which compiled the list, placed Abu Dhabi above Seoul, Singapore and Tel Aviv – cities that have been hailed globally as COVID-19 success stories.

The recognition comes at a time when the UAE is recording its lowest number of daily cases since last year. The country has also achieved the highest vaccination rate in the world, with 195.2 administered doses per 100 people as of September 14.

So what is the secret to our success? To put it more specifically: how could Abu Dhabi manage to rein in the worst of the pandemic without an ongoing lockdown, while also minimising disruption to its economy?

In my view, there has been not one, but several critical factors that have contributed to Abu Dhabi’s effective response. At the beginning of the global pandemic and under careful direction from the emirate’s leadership, we were quick to act, bolstering our healthcare system by adding capacity. Abu Dhabi is fortunate to have a modern and sophisticated medical infrastructure. Within weeks of the pandemic, we moved quickly to build field hospitals and open mass-testing centres and screening facilities.

Early on, we understood that identifying individuals infected with Covid-19 would ultimately determine our ability to control the pandemic. As such, we set about conducting a mass-testing initiative as part of a broader strategy of testing, tracing and isolating positive cases. At present, Abu Dhabi is the number-one jurisdiction in the world in terms of number of tests per person.

Importantly, we understood that the availability, and crucially the affordability, of Covid-19 testing would be decisive in ensuring our population would get tested regularly. We have also worked hard to make testing fast, convenient, and readily available – in malls, tents, clinics, and hospitals with access on foot and with drive-through facilities.

Here in Abu Dhabi, we believe that the true value of any society is measured in how it treats its most vulnerable members. This was also obvious during our pandemic response, as we moved swiftly to ensure that our elderly populations and those with pre-existing medical conditions were safeguarded through targeted education and regular testing. Our health system also responded to ensure there was limited disruption to other healthcare provisions.

I am proud to say that in the past 12 months, we have added further capacity to the health system; we now have a total of six field hospitals and a 200 per cent increase in hospital bed capacity, with daily testing capacity of more than 300,000 people.

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We believe that the true value of any society is measured in how it treats its most vulnerable members

This leads to another important factor: our approach to vaccinations. The efficiency and the scale of the roll-out, the access to vaccines and the uptake by members of the public have all been impressive. We believed we wouldn’t be safe until all of us were safe, meaning that it was crucial to get our community vaccinated in as little time as possible. Abu Dhabi and the UAE have had arguably the most successful vaccination drives in the world, and this has won us praise, deservedly, from all corners of the earth.

In one of the world’s most technologically advanced cities, it was almost inevitable that our innovative technologies would play a role in helping us fight Covid-19. For that reason, one of the first priorities and early successes was rolling out Alhosn app to enable the entire population to have quick access to test results and reports in addition to vaccination certifications.

The important thing about digital platforms is that they support early detection and treatment. To date, we have had one of the largest home isolation programmes using digital health monitoring as well as the largest home quarantine programme using digital monitoring.

By harnessing existing technology infrastructure, we have been able to ensure the highest level of services, connectivity, accessibility and integration between the public and private sectors as well as the community of Abu Dhabi.

In parallel, research has been another cornerstone of Abu Dhabi’s response to the pandemic. Again, it is universally accepted that greater knowledge empowers us to understand the course of action required to defeat any threat. And one of the best ways to protect everyone was to understand the true nature of what we were dealing with. Early on, we started clinical trials and, to date, we have conducted one the largest Phase 3 trials of its kind globally, with over 31,000 volunteers from 120 nationalities.

The agility, flexibility and interoperability of stakeholders across the healthcare system, as well as their adjacent ecosystem partners, has also supported our successful response. Much of the muscle in the day-to-day efforts is down to effective collaborations between the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi, the Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre, the Ministry of Health and Prevention, G42 and Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha), amongst many others.

I have also witnessed the pandemic cultivate a level of solidarity across the emirate, as we united in our efforts to combat this common threat. To its credit, our population has demonstrated exceptional civic responsibility at every step of the way. Our frontline workers have exhibited courage and determination, and theirs is a story of resilience in the face of adversity.

In Abu Dhabi we have worked hard to get to where we are today, and we are proud of the accomplishments and recognition that has come from that – but we also understand that now is not the time to be complacent. Until the day comes when Covid-19 is confined to the history books, we will continue to work hard and we won’t lose our focus.

Published: September 17th 2021, 4:00 AM
Jamal Mohammed Alkaabi

Jamal Mohammed Alkaabi

Dr Jamal Mohammed Alkaabi is Undersecretary of the Abu Dhabi Department of Health.