Coronavirus: Emirati medics remain in France to help tackle outbreak

Nine doctors on a residency programme turned down seats on an emergency flight home to the UAE

Dr Bader Al Nuaimi pictured with three colleagues at University Hospital of Lyon. The hospital is braced for more patients as cases soar in France. Courtesy: Al Nuaimi Family
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A group of Emirati doctors working in France have stayed in the country to help tackle the outbreak in one of Europe's worst-hit nations.

Nine medics declined an offer from the UAE government to fly home and will help their French deal with the impact of Covid-19.

The doctors were among 50 Emiratis enrolled in a residency programme when the French government declared a two-month state of emergency last week.

France has reported more than 44,500 coronavirus cases and about 3,000 deaths. The group received special permission from the UAE government to stay on, while others took a flight home.

My family of course are worried, but they are not disappointed that I am staying, they are proud of me

Among the volunteers is Mohamed Al Falasi, a doctor specialising in neurosurgery in Marseille, whose smiling picture was widely shared online.

"Bravo and merci!," wrote one French user on Twitter.

Emirati doctors are placed in French hospitals as part of the French-Emirati Medical Specialisation Programme.

They work and study to become specialists in areas such as emergency medicine, internal medicine and surgery.

“They expressed their strong willingness to keep working with their fellows in French hospitals, as did some of their GCC colleagues,” said Guillaume Huart, France's regional counsellor for health in the Middle East, who is based at the French Embassy in Riyadh and is involved in the programme.

“As a health professional, I salute their determination and their solidarity with their French mentors and colleagues in such an unprecedented situation.

“I know most of them and they are not only names on a list, but close friends and we keep exchanging texts and emails.”

Among the nine is Dr Mohamed Al Ketbi, an ophthalmologist who has worked in Nice on the southern coast since 2014.

"Each doctor took the decision individually based on the situation," he said.

"Of course we spoke between us and each one decided whether he or she would stay or not. Some decided to go back home to help and some decided to stay here."

I salute their determination and their solidarity with their French colleagues in such an unprecedented situation

After checking he was not needed back home, and that his family in Sharjah were well, he decided to stay.

He also did not want to "transfer anything back to the UAE or to my family".

"I have a few friends who are affected with Covid and isolated," he said, though he has no symptoms himself.

Dr Al Ketbi has continued his usual duties treating emergency cases, rather than Covid-19 patients, in recent weeks.

But he and his colleagues expect "the wave" of the virus to reach Nice by next week and would be drafted onto the front lines.

He last saw his wife and three children when he came home in October.

"My family of course are worried about me, but they are not disappointed that I am staying, they are proud of me," he said.

Dr Bader Al Nuaimi, another of the nine, is a specialist in lymph glands disorders and diabetes.

The 35-year-old father-of-two has been in Lyon for three years, according to his brother Nasser, who The National reached on Wednesday.

Ludovic Pouille, French Ambassador to the UAE, thanked the doctors for their service. Courtesy: French Embassy
Ludovic Pouille, French Ambassador to the UAE, thanked the doctors for their service. Courtesy: French Embassy

“When coronavirus started to spread he assured us that he was fine and matter in Lyon was under control," said Nasser, an engineer.

As the number of cases rose, the doctor told his family he would to stay on.

“He told us his work is a form of national duty,” Nasser said.

"And at the end of the day a doctor's job is a humanitarian service. They are following the footsteps of the UAE government. It has sent aid to many countries and brought stranded students in and provided them with the necessary quarantine."

Dr Al Nuaimi graduated from the Royal College Of Physicians Of Ireland and worked in Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi. Three years later he joined the French-Emirati programme.

“The last time we saw him was when he visited in December,” his brother said, adding that he hoped to see him when the outbreak was over.

He said their mother and his brother's wife and children would find it hard to cope with his absence. It is expected to be months before regular air travel resumes.

Doctors can remain enrolled in the residency programme for up to six years and learn to speak French during an intensive one-year course.

At least 20 doctors have come through the programme to work in private and public hospitals in the Emirates.

The medics will be allowed to continue where they left off once the outbreak is under control.

Ludovic Pouille, French Ambassador to the UAE, said he was grateful for the actions of the Emirati doctors who stayed behind to battle the virus.

“I am very proud and thankful to know that nine Emirati doctors chose to stay in France to fight Covid-19, hand-in-hand with their French colleagues,” he said.

“The specialisation programme for the Emirati doctors in France is a flagship of the fruitful and dynamic co-operation between France and the United Arab Emirates."