ABU DHABI // The private sector must be proactive against possible spread of the Mers coronavirus, an expert has urged.
Dr Salwan Ibrahim said it was important not to panic but containing Mers should not just be a concern for public officials.
Dr Ibrahim, based in Dubai, urged companies to raise awareness of the disease and educate employees on basic infection control.
The call comes after recent cases in Abu Dhabi and Dubai made the UAE the second most prevalent country for Mers, after Saudi Arabia.
“This is the right time to put in the procedures,” said Dr Ibrahim, Middle East medical director for International SOS, a company of experts in global health issues.
People need to be trained on how to act, employers should advise workers on the how to minimise the spread of infection and everyone should be vigilant, he said.
“The basic points of infection control are washing hands, keeping away from sick people, doing what we call ‘cough etiquette’, which means cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing, and when you are ill stay at home and keep away from the elderly or children.
“One of the strongest weapons is the information so you can manage accordingly what can be done and how to do it.”
His warning comes after the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed last month that an Emirati man in Dubai who contracted the Mers coronavirus had died and his wife was later confirmed to have the potentially fatal disease.
In November, a Jordanian man, his wife and their eight-year-old son, all living in the UAE, were confirmed as having contracted the virus.
The family, who live in Abu Dhabi, were taken to hospital for treatment and the woman, who was eight months pregnant, died shortly after giving birth by caesarean section.
The newborn is still being monitored but was originally said to have not been infected.
“We know that there is an increased pattern of new cases in the city of Abu Dhabi and the new cases in Dubai as well,” said Dr Ibrahim.
“Qatar used to be the second country for the most cases of Mers but if you look at the new cases in November and December, the UAE has now moved into second place.”
The adaptability of Mers, responsible for the deaths of 74 people, is also concerning, he said.
“The problem of the coronavirus is that it mutates very fast,” Dr Ibrahim said. “The coronavirus started as an animal virus. Research suggests the hosts may have been camels but more and more people think it is also related to bats.
“Then it was a human virus with the ability to transmit between people.”
Dr Ibrahim said the UAE’s position as a global trade and tourism centre meant it had to be even more vigilant.
“The UAE is an excellent hub for commerce and tourism so we see a lot of people move through the airports,” he said. “This brings an increased chance of transmission.”
He said the International SOS, the WHO and other health authorities were urging vigilance in all Middle East countries to prevent further outbreaks of the deadly disease.
“We have learnt a lot and we have the technology and the ability to contain it much better than before,” Dr Ibrahim said. “We just need to stay vigilant and maintain the cases accurately.”
He also called for more research to determine how Mers is transmitted.
Since September 2012, the WHO has been told of 176 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with Mers around the world.