UAE leads Covid-19 research in the Middle East
Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the UAE’s efforts to combat its spread and prepare for a post-lockdown reality have made it a positive example for the region and the world.
Public health officials have carried out nearly 5 million coronavirus tests over the past six months – a remarkable achievement in a country with a population of 9 million. This mass-testing strategy has curbed the spread of the virus and protected the population.
Another pillar of the Emirates’ success thus far is the willingness to invest in local expertise and drive resources towards Covid-19 research. In May, QuantLase Imaging Lab, which is part of International Holdings Company in Abu Dhabi, announced it had developed a rapid-testing technology capable of diagnosing coronavirus in mere minutes.
The Covid-19 screenings use a diffractive phase interferometry (DPI) test, which can detect early signs of the body fighting a virus. A centre has been set up on the border between Dubai and Abu Dhabi to facilitate travel into the latter, where a negative coronavirus test remains a requirement for entry.
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The facility carries out thousands of tests a day, with more DPI screening centres set to open soon.
Abu Dhabi and Al Ain are also the first cities in the world to commence Phase III trials for a World Health Organisation-enlisted coronavirus vaccine. More than 10,000 people have volunteered for the final-stage trials, which aim to identify antibodies that provide immunity against the virus. Only three out of 20 coronavirus vaccines are currently in Phase III trials globally.
While the world awaits a successful vaccine, the Emirates is developing new treatments locally. In May, Abu Dhabi Stem Cell Centre announced it had produced a stem cell therapy treatment that helps to alleviate Covid-19 symptoms. The centre has thus far treated 2,000 patients free of charge.
This week, a one-month study of coronavirus immunity was launched in Abu Dhabi. The tests used will detect whether a person has been infected with coronavirus in the past, providing scientists with data on how widespread infections have been, as well as the prevalence of asymptomatic carriers. Such results will be instrumental in designing future public health policies.
The ground-breaking developments have been made easier by the fact that the UAE was already heavily focused on becoming a leading centre for medical research in general. Now, it is facilitating advancement in other areas of medicine, demonstrating the synergies that can form when developing a global medical hub.
The UAE’s experience thus far provides an important lesson for public policymaking
This week, Abdullah Nazir Ahmad Muhammad became the first patient in the UAE to undergo bone-marrow transplant, in Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, Abu Dhabi. The transplant used stem cell technology originally developed to treat Covid-19 infections, and as a result the blood-cancer patient was given a second chance of life.
The UAE’s experience thus far provides an important lesson for public policymaking: that tackling challenges as daunting as a viral pandemic takes long-term planning and investment in strategic sectors. The same qualities are required in order to deal with a pandemic’s aftermath.
Ghadan 21, a set of large-scale reforms and projects launched last year by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, has helped to diversify the economy and develop non-oil sectors. Early investment in education to foster local talent has long attracted the brightest minds from around the world. When the pandemic struck, the country already had a solid healthcare infrastructure.
Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the UAE’s founding. Seen through the larger lens of human history, five decades is a very short period of time. But as the UAE’s pandemic experience shows, no matter how far back a nation’s history stretches, it must make use of the time it has to prepare for a brighter future.
Published: July 30, 2020 08:00 AM