GCC experts urge public to protect themselves from infectious diseases

  • Public health authorities should be the main source of information for MERS-CoV prevention for patients, experts advise
  • Urgent need for adoption of Point of Care diagnostic testing to reduce diagnosis time and prevention of major MERS-CoV outbreaks in the GCC
  • Preparedness and response to upper respiratory tract epidemics in the GCC to be discussed at the 6th Public Health Conference at Arab Health taking place from 30 - 31 January 2019 in Dubai

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 27 November 2018: In the lead up to the 6th Public Health Conference taking place at the Arab Health Congress from 30-31 January 2019 at the Dubai World Trade Centre, infectious disease experts have urged the UAE and GCC public to protect themselves from the risk of acquiring upper respiratory tract diseases such as H1N1 influenza and MERS-CoV, by following the communication and recommendations of their national public health authority.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, (MERS-CoV), which was first identified in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in 2012, is a zoonotic virus, denoting a virus transmitted between animals and people.

A total of eight laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS-CoV were reported globally within the month of October 2018 according to the WHO, all of them in the GCC. Experts have advised people suffering from compromised immune systems or diabetes, renal failure, and chronic lung disease should take extra measures to protect themselves from infection by avoiding close contact with camels, and taking general hygiene measures, such as regular hand washing and observing food hygiene practices.

Dr Ziad A Memish, Professor of Infectious Diseases, Public Health Department, College of Medicine, Al-Faisal University, Riyadh, KSA, and former Deputy Minister of Health for Public Health in KSA, said:

“Since 2012, 85% of the cases of MERS-CoV globally have been in the GCC or Arabian Peninsula and, with their experience gained over the last 10-15 years by dealing with many emerging pathogens, the Ministries of Health in our region have been very good at communicating messages relating to public safety and disease prevention. However, there is still a lot to be learned and done to get rid of the disease from our region.”

One of the biggest challenges with the ongoing cases of MERS-CoV for GCC countries is inbound travel activities such as the Haj and Umrah in KSA and the increase in tourists visiting the UAE.

With KSA preparing to welcome up to 30 million Umrah pilgrims by 2030, experts have highlighted the increased risk of an epidemic and underlined the need for public health authorities to be ready to adapt to new ways of responding to epidemics in order to prevent the spread of any upper respiratory tract viruses during these times.

“Rapidly advancing technology will play a pivotal role when it comes to speeding up diagnosis of upper respiratory tract disease in this region. For example, when MERS-CoV first emerged, we relied on the Centres for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) from the US and Public Health England in Europe to provide us with diagnostic kits to pick up on the disease.

“Instead of the 6-8 hours we currently spend on waiting for a diagnosis, now, with the increasing adoption of new diagnostic techniques such as Point of Care Testing, we have the potential to allow a lot of the new cases to be diagnosed in just 30-40 minutes. However, while these technologies are already available in our region, they are unfortunately not yet being applied,” added Dr Memish.

The 6th Public Health conference will outline several important areas in which public health bodies in the GCC can contribute to making overall emergency and disaster management more effective and will outline the requirements for effective emergency medical and public health response to these events.

Commenting, Sally Thompson, Head of Conference Production at Arab Health, said: “The GCC is part of the global community, so whatever happens in other parts of the world in terms of the emergence of new diseases will have an impact on our region. By facilitating communication between the different national health authorities, and by providing a platform for public health officers to be part of these discussions, the Public Health conference is an opportunity to improve the efficiency of public health strategies during future epidemics, disasters and emergencies.”

Alongside Dr Memish, the Public Health conference will also feature a number of other high-level public health experts from across the region including Dr Ahmed Mandil, Coordinator: Research Development & Innovation, Information, Evidence & Research Department, WHO/EMRO, Cairo, Egypt; Dr Firas Jaafar Kareem AlNajjar, Consultant of Emergency Medicine, Rashid Hospital Trauma Center; Program Director-Emergency Medicine Residency Program, Dubai Health Authority; Adjunct Associate Professor, Dubai Medical College, Dubai, UAE; and Prof Dr Levent Kenar, Head - Medical CBRN (Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) Defence, Gulhane Military Medical Academy, Istanbul, Turkey, to name a few.