How the UAE maintained public trust in health care during Covid-19

One year since the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, we find ourselves reflecting on the journey and changes that have passed. Different parts of the world have adopted diverse strategies and a range of approaches to manage the pandemic – with healthcare infrastructure, government reforms and community solidarity carving the paths to normalcy. However, in the absence of a one-size-fits-all approach, there has been one common thread globally in our response: trust.

Trust defines an organisation’s badge to operate, lead and succeed. It is the ultimate currency in the relationship between institutions and stakeholders. It is the foundation that enables an organisation to step up and lead from the front, take risks and recover from setbacks. Without it, we have no credibility, no voice and no character.

Building trust is a long-term exercise that takes years of being reliable, honest and open, and showing integrity. However, globally, the pandemic has put trust to the test. With more than 3 million lives lost and counting, and unemployment equivalent to the Great Depression, trust has been eroded around the world. As we look to the future, we must learn from this experience and understand how trust is earned.

The Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual worldwide survey on credibility, this year reveals strong trust in the UAE’s leadership, with the government emerging once again as the country’s most trusted institution, at 80 per cent. Even in the most challenging circumstances, the government’s transparency demonstrates honesty, and the sharing of information and clarity on the intricate and vital details reflects openness. With one of the world’s highest testing rates for Covid-19 and its status a hub for vaccine distribution, with ambitions to ship 18 billion doses by the end of the year, the UAE has led a sound and swift response to the pandemic. Yet, stepping up to protect the nearly 10 million people who live in the country has been a united effort.

Today, the population’s trust in the UAE’s healthcare system is at an all-time high, at 81 per cent, two points up from last year. Again, this is no surprise, with the country’s agile, innovative, action-oriented response garnering recognition from global health authorities.

Given its intimate nature, trust in health care is local and based on personal experiences. The components that fed into the UAE’s trust in its healthcare infrastructure are manifold. Rapid preparedness and response in the shape of designated facilities, drive-through screening facilities and numerous field hospitals generated confidence within the community that their safety was a top priority. Seamless access to testing and world-class care through the latest in technology, diagnostics and talent comforted people who knew they were being taken care of.

The dissemination of accurate and real-time information and updates through regular communications across all touchpoints also gave the community reassurance and a voice of reason. Finally, the continuation of care for non-Covid-19 healthcare needs through video and telemedicine consultations soothed the concerns of those with other healthcare challenges.

An Abu Dhabi resident receives a Covid-19 test. Mass testing is a key factor in the UAE curbing the pandemic. Victor Besa / The National
An Abu Dhabi resident receives a Covid-19 test. Mass testing is a key factor in the UAE curbing the pandemic. Victor Besa / The National

Seha, alongside Abu Dhabi’s Department of Health and other healthcare partners, has played a key role in the emirate’s response right from the very beginning. It led the charge in enhancing the nation’s healthcare infrastructure, forging partnerships that were critical to the delivery of care and training staff to navigate a novel disease in record time. Our highly trained healthcare professionals on the frontlines and the rest of the network working behind the scenes were instrumental in combatting the pandemic and building trust within the community with their relentless efforts. The capital’s remarkable and collaborative efforts resulted in its global recognition as the leading city for its response, topping a ranking of the world’s 25 leading cities by Deep Knowledge Group, a London-based science and technology interest group.

The UAE has been an example to the world, deploying arguably the quickest and most effective collective effort the nation has ever seen. This was accomplished by leveraging and building on the one constant that has remained throughout – the trust of its people. Led by two of the nation’s most trusted institutions – the government and the country’s healthcare system, the UAE’s response to the pandemic reinforced its unwavering commitment to its citizens and residents, not to mention elevating its position on the global map of excellence in leadership and health care.

Ultimately, how trust is earned is no longer a mystery. I believe we will look back at this experience as a defining moment in this nation’s journey. We will emerge from a critical learning experience with an abundance of trust, thanks in large part to those players who have earned it.

Dr Tarek Fathey is the group chief executive of Seha

Updated: April 27, 2021 11:14 AM

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