Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 27 October 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Abu Dhabi health chief tells of his own fight with Covid-19

Matar Al Nuaimi was among the first people to get the virus in early February, as he oversaw frontline preparations

Matar Al Nuaimi spent weeks in hospital recovering from Covid-19 before returning to organising Abu Dhabi's response against the outbreak. Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre
Matar Al Nuaimi spent weeks in hospital recovering from Covid-19 before returning to organising Abu Dhabi's response against the outbreak. Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre

A health chief leading Abu Dhabi's battle against Covid-19 has spoken of his own fight against the virus.

Matar Al Nuaimi, director general of Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre, was responsible for a large part of the capital's response to the pandemic.

As a former colonel in the UAE Armed Forces who trained military medical staff, he was deemed the ideal person to prepare for the detection of cases.

“I believe in the importance of training in all fields. I know that by training thoroughly and effectively you can accomplish at least 70 per cent of your mission,” he said.

But only a couple of weeks in, he developed symptoms of the virus he was working to protect the public against.

It was my fate to deal with Covid-19 both, professionally and as a patient

Matar Al Nuaimi

“On the February 8, I started getting sick – I had a fever and a feeling that it was Covid-19, so I went directly to the hospital and got tested,” he said.

The result was positive.

“It was fate. It was my fate to deal with Covid-19 both, professionally and as a patient,” he said.

The experience was stressful for himself and his family, but he was determined it would not stop him performing his duty for “even one day”.

Confined to his isolation bed for 20 days, he kept pressing ahead with work.

“I felt that my duty was pushing me to continue working, I wanted my teams in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Al Dhafra to see me on a daily basis, aiming to promote the idea that no matter what we are going through, we all are in this fight together, to serve our part towards our country and the UAE community," he said.

During his stay, he received a call from Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, to check on him.

Mr Al Nuaimi said planning for the outbreak began in January, when the World Health Organisation warned the world about the virus.

That began a cascade of preparations in the UAE, before the first cases were detected in the country in a family of four from the Chinese city of Wuhan on January 29.

The work included training, checking medical capabilities and equipment, and communication and integration of the UAE’s many public and private healthcare systems.

“This was all before Covid-19 actually hit,” he said.

Medics learnt about the symptoms and an early reference sample of the virus was brought to Sheikh Khalifa Medical City for comparison and analysis.

Isolation centres and field hospitals were established.

“We did not want to overwhelm the health sector; putting that amount of pressure on the healthcare system could result in unwelcome outcomes – you will not be able to do anything else," Mr Al Nuaimi said.

He paid tribute to the heroes fighting the epidemic on the front lines.

Frontline workers such as Mr Al Nuaimi have been listed in a nationwide database of people deemed essential to the fight against the virus.

In total, 80,000 medical staff, officials and others have been identified, with their contact details and specialisms listed.

In addition, they will be given incentives to stay and settle in the country long-term, in the form of discounts and support.

“They have sacrificed a lot,” he said.

“They’ve sacrificed time with their family, their rest, their health, maybe even the mental well-being of themselves.

"I know people that work during peak times in stressful places – laboratory, ambulance services, emergency room, ICUs – it is stressful by nature.

"Under these circumstances people from all areas have pulled together. This dedication, this commitment is unique in the UAE.”

Updated: September 22, 2020 02:41 PM

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