It was a sombre day when, as a young girl in secondary school, Farida Al Hosani attended a funeral with family and friends. There, she witnessed an incident that would change the course of her life forever.
"One of my relatives fainted," says Al Hosani. "I was shocked, and the people around her did not know what to do. I could see how difficult and stressful it was for everyone."
That defining moment inspired a young Al Hosani to become a doctor, motivated by the strong desire to help others and make a difference.
"That was the moment that medicine entered my path. I wanted to study medicine to be able to help and support people to stay alive," she says.
She went on to graduate from one of the foremost institutions in the world, Johns Hopkins University, with a PhD in Health Policies and a master's degree in Public Health.
During an interview with Khaleej Times at her office in Abu Dhabi, Dr Al Hosani shares some watershed parts of a journey filled with both successes and challenges.
She also explains how she landed at the forefront of the UAE's response plan to Covid-19 as the official spokesperson for the UAE Health Sector and the Manager of Communicable Diseases Department, Abu Dhabi Centre of Public Health.
Perhaps like any major life incident, many people may remember the moment they first heard of Covid-19. For Dr Al Hosani, that moment came when she was on vacation.
"I was on a family vacation outside the UAE when the first case emerged in China… and when the disease started to spread within Wuhan, I got this bad feeling. Fortunately, it was towards the end of my vacation, and I came back to Abu Dhabi before things really started to affect the population," she says.
Overnight, she was catapulted into the public eye, finding herself at the front and centre of the UAE's response to what can be presumed as the most testing two years of her career. But she proved herself more than capable of handling the pressure.
"I think everything that happened to me in the previous two years prepared me for the Covid-19 pandemic. My focus had been on emerging, unknown infections, and I think this was important because it helped us in the UAE and in Abu Dhabi to be better equipped for dealing with Covid-19," she explains.
As she led the Covid media briefing every week and updated the public on the latest announcements, Dr Al Hosani became the face of the UAE's pandemic response. And while there may be numerous reasons why the UAE's leadership chose her, it's clear that the selection was made because - aside from her qualifications - she exudes strength and trust.
Commenting on her selection, Dr Al Hosani says: "I considered this a very big responsibility, different to what I did daily and happening at a very stressful time, as everyone was stressed within the organisation and the community, so it was a huge responsibility for me to try to contribute."
She was also busy behind the scenes, tirelessly working on roles which included leading the research on Covid, aligning the findings to the emergency response, drafting strategy, liaising with scientists locally and globally - all while working to keep the public informed and reassured, as well as navigating life for a family of six.
"I believe in what I do," she says. "I believe that (what we do) in public health impacts people's lives, whether its related to infectious diseases, nutrition, healthy diet, or healthy lifestyle, so every moment that we spend on our work makes a difference in other people's lives. That's why it deserves the effort."
Dr Al Hosani says she was also keen to correct misinformation about Covid-19, as well as curb the fear-mongering that was spreading on social media.
"I could feel the need to calm people because I could see in reality we were dealing with cases, and it was not as dramatic as what was put out on social media," she says. "My passion was to show people the reality and not the exaggerated picture on social media. This drove me to accept this role and consider it as a new challenge and new path in my career."
Dr Al Hosani reminisced about her days growing up in rural Abu Dhabi in Sila, a quiet area with “a very nice beach” in the emirate’s Al Dhafra region bordering Saudi Arabia.
She describes her family as supportive and encouraging, with a father who worked in immigration and a homemaking mother. As a young child, she was fascinated by the world around her and valued connections she forged with others.
"I always had the passion for learning. I was always curious, but I always had my way," she says.
"I didn't just dedicate my life to studying. My focus was on my personal needs and also socialising with other students. So, this was a common thing throughout my studies and career - being connected to people and learning what I like to learn. Curiosity always drove my learning.
"What keeps me going every day is the feeling that I could leave an impact. I don't work for today, I work for the future; I always work for the moment that I could leave this place (life) and that makes a difference for me," she says.
But it was not always easy for her to do it all – study, have a full-time job and become a mother. Yet, she says it was important for her to lead by example and hope that her children - two girls and two boys - understand that her time away from home is being used to serve the greater good.
"What drove me to do that is (the fact) that I wanted to be a role model for my children and show them that nothing can prevent them from reaching their goals.
"I hope this is the lesson that they got and (they know) I'm there for them… to keep the connection and to show them that while I am away, I am supporting our community, our people and I'm sure that they feel it.”
It becomes obvious that the concept of support, both internal and external, is a vital component of Dr Al Hosani's nature, and has been a driving force in her growth - professionally and personally.
“The support system that I had throughout my life, starting with my parents, the support that I felt that the government had for women, and the support that I got from my husband and my family during the pandemic was a crucial element of my success," she says.
Today, Dr Al Hosani always finds ways to cope with the demands of everyday life. "I know how to deal with stresses that I could have in my life whether they are related to work or family, or others."
"I always have a moment to enjoy with my children. I like to meditate in nature. The connection with earth and nature gives me more energy and positivity that keeps my day going."
One achievement that is particularly rewarding for Dr Al Hosani is how she helped the UAE manage the pandemic successfully. Her efforts contributed to the nation consistently topping global response rankings.
In late 2021, the UAE rose to the top of Bloomberg's Covid Resilience Ranking, outperforming European countries in terms of containing the spread of the pandemic. It was also named as the best place to be with the emergence of the Omicron variant and one of the most consistent performers with testing and vaccinating the population.
Abu Dhabi also topped a list of the world's 25 leading cities identified by the renowned London-based analytics consortium, Deep Knowledge Group (DKG), for their response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"I think there are many unique factors in the UAE which helped us. Our unified spirit and the inspirational words from His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, who said we would deal with this challenge with positivity and consider it as an opportunity. I could see the results of this vision, and I couldn't be more proud," she says.
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