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Abdul Rahman bin Mohammad bin Nasser Al Owais, Minister of Health and Prevention

Abdul Rahman bin Mohammad bin Nasser Al Owais, Minister of Health and Prevention, has praised the UAE’s efforts to handle the repercussions and challenges of the coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic.

“The UAE has exerted exceptional efforts to absorb the implications of this pandemic and is now examining future opportunities to advance the healthcare system into the post COVID-19 period. This would serve the aspirations on the need to keep pace with rapid and evolving changes; strengthen the UAE’s development model and achieve the strategic goals of post COVID-19 era by the UAE Centennial 2071,” he said.

He was addressing the UAE Government remote Meeting under the title ‘Preparations for the post-coronavirus, COVID-19, period’. The meeting brings together more than 100 government officials, ministers and heads of federal and local government entities, undersecretaries and directors of federal and local entities, to examine the implications of the coronavirus pandemic on vital sectors and explore opportunities, challenges and preparations for the post COVID-19 period.

Al Owais indicated that the meeting, which embodies the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, aims to produce a strategy for the post COVID-19 period and assess the outcomes of the national response to the crisis in the healthcare and other vital sectors.

“The meeting also aims to keep pace with global trends and opportunities for the post COVID-19 era and ensuring integration of efforts and plans at the federal and local levels to shape the future of the UAE,” he continued.

The Minister of Health emphasised the Ministry’s readiness to provide health-related solutions and strategies for the post-coronavirus period, based on accumulated lessons and experiences. He also stressed the need to come up with innovative future solutions for preventive health services and harness smart technologies such as Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, AI, and Big Data Analysis, in addition to predictive models for hospital management. “We are committed to enhancing prevention efforts against infectious diseases and building resilient healthcare systems that can efficiently respond to epidemics or health risks,” he continued.

“There are no custom-made, clear experiences on how to handle the crisis that countries can implement, and no one can predict what will happen. However, the UAE is committed to adopting new ideas and availing of similar experiences to establish their own response strategy based on accumulated lessons and information and will hopefully overcome this crisis with greater strength and determination.”

Al Owais revealed that the UAE’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is unique and different from other countries. “The UAE has shown exceptional management of the crisis, whilst leveraging other countries’ experiences. However, the level of response was different, given the demographic composition in the country, which is home to more than 200 nationalities, and its distinct resources, readiness and experiences in many sectors. This explains the discrepancy in world countries’ response to the coronavirus pandemic and the disparate impact on the economic, health, psychological and social levels,” he continued.

The Minister of Health gave an overview of the health sector expectations for 2020. He indicated that the UAE will manage to contain the COVID-19 outbreak and will develop a national readiness strategy for management of future diseases “Disease X”. “The ministry will endeavour to develop the healthcare sector, by creating innovative ways to deliver healthcare services, such as telemedicine and digital medicine,” he noted.

The Minister of Health commended the UAE’s outstanding response to the coronavirus pandemic. “The UAE intensified prevention efforts to contain the pandemic by organising a nationwide sterilization campaign, launching the ‘Weqaya’ virtual platform and intensifying awareness campaigns about hygiene and social physical distancing, not to mention its ‘Don’t Worry’ campaign to promote mental health through,” he noted.

Al Owais also indicated that the UAE is leading global coronavirus testing with 1.5 million tests conducted since the beginning of the outbreak and that daily testing average in the UAE equals a four-month average of COVID-19 testing in other countries. “Other measures include isolation and quarantine programs for people returning to the UAE from foreign destinations, as well as the drive-through COVID-19 testing centers,” he said.

He also explained the UAE’s vision in dealing with the crisis saying that in the past, the biggest challenge was a lack of potentials. “Today, we enjoy the possibility to exchange and receive information. However, the common denominator between these outbreaks is the importance of social physical distancing to prevent the spread of infections and pandemics,” he added.

“The biggest challenge was during April, when the coronavirus curve was rising steadily. As a precautionary measure, the UAE intensified its efforts to contain the outbreak, by enforcing mandatory self-quarantine and confinement measures, even for asymptomatic persons, during recovery for 15 to 25 days and up to 35 days. However, it takes up to one month to confirm total recoveries,” he went on to say.

He concluded, “The UAE acted proactively with extreme transparency since the early days of the outbreak and managed to respond quickly to the virus. Notably, it was the first country in the Middle East to report a confirmed case, one of the first countries to begin coronavirus testing and early detection, and among the few countries that are still performing strict testing.”

The session also tackled the global health trends for the post COVID-19 period.

Al Owais discussed the potential challenges to the UAE health sector with attention shifting from non-communicable diseases due to the fight against the coronavirus disease, overstressed health systems combined with the seasonal influenza and depleted operational capacity in hospitals.

He focused on UAE opportunities in the post-COVID19 era in the short-term, in terms of increasing 2020-2021 government budget spending on the health sector, activating preemptive digital contact tracing using data monitoring tools, integrated data linking and licencing of virtual medical services providers.

Other issues include ongoing local isolation and quarantine measures for confirmed and suspected cases, conducting large-scale COVID-19 testing for all residents, enhancing citizens and residents’ immunity by encouraging a healthy lifestyle (healthy food, exercising), and including mandatory COVID-19 vaccination, once found, in the annual government-funded vaccine schedule.

Al Owais also highlighted the country’s long-term opportunities, in terms of enhancing health security, developing a strategy and work mechanisms to include new supply chains, activating the role of the medical industry and services, launching a digital immunisation ID card, and building national capacities to fight future epidemics, including the development of vaccines and medicines.

He stressed the importance of public private partnerships in supporting R&D specialised in epidemics and enacting proactive legislations to regulate health services, as well as the establishment of a central epidemic response unit that involves several entities ready to offer rapid and flexible response to address future epidemics.

He also underlined the importance of providing moral and psychological support to healthcare workers in recognition of their significant role.

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