UAE vigilant against 'disease X'; fully prepared to deal with future medical emergencies

Country is also prepared to deal with threats like climate change which is expected to kill over 250,000 people due to malnutrition, heat stress and other issues

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Nasreen Abdulla

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Abdulrahman Al Owais, UAE's Minister of Health and Prevention, addressing a session the World Government Summit in Dubai on Tuesday. 14 February 2023. Photo:  Shihab
Abdulrahman Al Owais, UAE's Minister of Health and Prevention, addressing a session the World Government Summit in Dubai on Tuesday. 14 February 2023. Photo: Shihab

Published: Tue 14 Feb 2023, 4:24 PM

Last updated: Tue 14 Feb 2023, 5:05 PM

The UAE is well prepared to deal with expected and unexpected health challenges, according to Abdulrahman Al Owais, the country’s Minister of Health and Prevention. He was speaking during a session on health and wellbeing on Day 2 at the World Government Summit (WGS) in Dubai.

“As the world moves into a new phase, after the challenges of Covid-19, the new question is how we ensure sustainable preparedness against future health threats,” he said in his opening remarks. He spoke about how UAE is vigilant against a future viral infection named ‘disease X’. According to WHO, Disease X represents a serious international epidemic that could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease.

The contingency plan to fight this disease has been drawn from the lessons learnt during the pandemic. He said the UAE is also prepared to deal with unexpected threats like climate change which is expected to kill over 250,000 people due to malnutrition, heat stress and other issues.

Meanwhile, another speaker on the panel, Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, Minister of Health and Population, Arab Republic of Egypt warned people not to forget the lessons learnt during the pandemic. “There are enormous lessons to learn so we can be ready for future pandemics,” he said illustrating how the private and public sector worked together to overcome the various challenges Covid-19 posed and for crisis management. “I am only afraid that we human being tend to forget very easily."

Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director, World Health Organisation (WHO) Health Emergencies Programme stressed the importance of concentrating on communities. “We need to remember that emergencies begin and end in our community,” he said. “The resilience and ability to cope in terms of a global emergency must come from our communities.”

International cooperation

All speakers on the panel highlighted the importance of international cooperation. “No one nation can manage to work alone to solve this epidemic or health crisis,” said Abdel Ghaffar. “We need to work together so that no one will be left behind.” We need to build preparedness. I am afraid that as humans we forget easily. So it is important to keep in mind that we should not forget the lessons of Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Ryan spoke about how Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of WHO has envisioned an international health emergency treaty which will connect nations and their work on an international level to help the world to collectively prepare for future pandemics. “We have seen how these diseases spread,” he said. “We are as prepared as our least prepared country. Protecting the nation is about protecting everyone. That is the reality.”

To this, Al Owais responded by pledging that the UAE will fully support the organisation in its efforts to build international cooperation.

Investment in the future of healthcare

According to Al Owais, a futuristic health system is necessary to deal with the challenges of tomorrow. “Digital healthcare has become a new norm,” he said. “The frontier of new healthcare includes AI, disruptive innovation, virtual care and other technologies. In the future, genomic medicine and machine learning will become common subjects in medical school.”

Al Owais said the country’s priority was to build the capacity of healthcare works and train them to face future challenges.

Abdel Ghaffar also spoke about being prepared for various kinds of healthcare challenges. “I am not talking just about the pandemic,” he said. “In the case of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria. If the healthcare system is not ready for accepting that, then I think this will be a problem.”

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