Authorities in Abu Dhabi are expanding a programme that analyses sewage for signs of infectious disease.
Researchers have been tracking the virus that causes Covid-19 in wastewater since early in the pandemic.
Studies have shown that people infected with the virus, even those who do not develop symptoms, shed it through their excrement.
And because levels of coronavirus in wastewater shows the prevalence of infection in the population, studying sewage gives authorities an indication of its spread in the community.
The research project, which was conducted by Khalifa University, was so successful authorities now plan to open a laboratory, said Awaidha Al Marar, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Energy.
"Our objective is to protect the community at all times by developing systems to detect and curb threats to public health,” Mr Al Marar said.
The Wastewater Monitoring Lab will analyse samples for infectious diseases and harmful substances.
It will be run in collaboration with G42 Healthcare and be operational within a year.
Ashish Koshy, chief executive of G42 Healthcare, said the lab would be the first of its kind in the region.
Mr Koshy said it would use the latest technology to analyse wastewater samples for traces of infectious diseases and harmful chemicals.
"Application of artificial intelligence in this lab will enable an early-warning system that will determine, with high accuracy, the origin of the outbreak or pollutant behaviour, detect the virus in locations with limited monitoring and track the spread of a disease during an infectious outbreak,” he said.
The lab will screen wastewater for contaminants including biotoxins and industrial chemicals.
Many countries screen their wastewater to trace the spread of the coronavirus.
Analysis conducted in Italy showed it was in circulation long before the first known cases.
Italian scientists found traces of the virus in sewage water from two cities in December, two months before the country’s first confirmed infections.
Shedding happens early in the progression of the disease, well before people develop symptoms.
Researchers test the samples using the same method as that when people are swabbed, to search for the presence of genetic matter that is specific to the virus.