UAE prepared for 'next pandemic' after Covid-19, experts say

The Covid pandemic, which killed nearly 7 million people globally, is considered to be one of the deadliest in history


Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Thu 30 May 2024, 7:52 PM

It has just been one year since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the end of the Covid pandemic, but experts are already asking when the next one will occur. “We know another pandemic is going to come but we don’t know when,” said Dr Mahra Khalifa Al Hosani, from the Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre.

Her comments came at a panel discussion about the UAE’s preparedness to face future pandemics at the University of Birmingham in Dubai on Thursday.

The Covid pandemic, which killed nearly 7 million people globally, is considered to be one of the deadliest in history.

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One expert said it was only “a matter of time” before the next pandemic occurs. “It could either be a respiratory viral illness because it spreads quickly, or a zoonotic infection that spreads from animals to human beings, or a vector-borne disease that spreads from mosquitoes – like dengue,” said Dr Ahmed Alhammadi, President of Emirates Infectious Diseases Society.

According to Dr Ahmed, an increase in human population puts more people at risk for zoonotic diseases. “To meet the needs of the growing population, especially in countries like India and China many forests are cut down,” he said. “This puts people in environments were previously animals lived and this exposes them to new strains putting them at risk.”

UAE fully prepared

Despite it being difficult to predict how or when the next pandemic will occur, the UAE is fully ready to deal with anything, as per Dr Mahra, Section Head of Preparedness and Response in Communicable Disease Sector, Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre.

“I can confidently say that we are prepared for the next pandemic,” she said. “We are also constantly evolving. We are learning and improving as we go. Now we have more advanced technologies, testing and more advanced specialities that help us to constantly learn and be prepared.”

According to Dr Ahmed, the UAE has a plan of action that will be put into motion if and when there is another pandemic. “The national emergency and disaster management has a detailed plan where to admit patients, how to transport them and even how to store medication,” he said.

He also shared some challenges they faced during the Covid pandemic. “When we started the Sputnik vaccine trial in Al Ain, one of the challenges we faced was to obtain a fridge that stored things at -20 degree Celsius,” he recalled.

“There were many fridges that stored things at -70 degree Celsius but there were only two or three fridges in the country for -20 degrees. So we had to import them but this was one of the learning curves. It helped us plan what is needed in the future.”

According to Dr Imane Boudellioua, Senior Researcher at the Technology Innovation Institute, Abu Dhabi, it is important to use the latest technology to improve readiness. “We have to include artificial intelligence to build smart systems that can model disease spread or help in early detection,” she said. “This will help authorities recognise that a certain area will have an outbreak at a particular time, based on the modelling. This will give authorities a heads up and keep them prepared.”

Role of general public

According to Dr Mahra, the role of the general public will be very important in ensuring that a future pandemic will be contained.

“People have to understand the importance of what we are doing,” she said. “For example, during Covid, when we would ask people who they were living with and who they interacted with, they had to understand the importance of that information. It is not just to quarantine but to protect the whole community.”

Dr Ahmed said that people should continue to practice good hygiene measures beyond the pandemic. “People should educate themselves and continue handwashing, avoiding contacts with sick people and wear masks when necessary,” he said. “When they are travelling, they should take the appropriate vaccinations and take the necessary precautions.”


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