The world is fighting an ongoing battle with the coronavirus. But the UAE is seemingly at the forefront of tackling the spread of the infection through a unified approach in testing, technology innovation and finance. Surbhi Gupta, the industry analyst for Transformational Health at Frost & Sullivan and Reenita Das, the senior vice president and partner for Transformational Health at Frost & Sullivan, told International Finance, “The UAE has managed the pandemic very well and their key measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus cases is mass testing. The UAE tested not only those with symptoms but also asymptomatic cases so that healthcare professionals can find, isolate, test, and treat every case, to break the chains of transmission.”
In May, the UAE set up a massive coronavirus testing lab to address the need for population-scale detection and diagnosis. It was in the same month it achieved a milestone for carrying out the highest number of coronavirus testing per capita in the world. “Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the UAE has conducted 4,461,205 that have allowed the country to diagnose 56,711 total cases as of July 19. The rate of people who tested positive is just 0.6 percent, which is considerably lower than the global average and one of the lowest total cases-to-tests rates in the world,” Gupta and Das said. The country’s aggressive approach to testing has proved to be an effective strategy in keeping pace with detection of the infection.
Sophisticated research in testing has proved effective
In June, Mediclinic Middle East and King’s College Hospital London—the two of the largest private hospital groups in the country have started to offer the SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies test which is used to confirm the presence of antibodies produced by the immune system to fight the coronavirus. In theory, these antibodies are likely to be caused by an infection from the coronavirus resulting in Covid-19 in patients. It is found that this type of test is useful in confirming the diagnosis of infection that did not show major symptoms in patients, or may have shown a negative result on a standard polymerase chain reaction test. The test is reported to have shown 95 percent accuracy in individuals exposed to the infection.
In July, private hospitals in Abu Dhabi announced that they do not have patients detected with the infection anymore. This is impressive considering that the infection is hard to contain and most economies in the world are struggling to bring down the numbers since the beginning of the epidemic. The collective efforts of the UAE government, hospitals and research groups have helped to achieve substantial findings of lowered coronavirus patients. For example, the Mohammed Bin Rashid University developed a groundbreaking analysis of the strain of coronavirus in the country. In another example, the government announced extensive stimulus packages totalling almost Dh126 billion which includes fees waivers, utility subsidies and cancellation of certain fines and penalties.
A unified approach to beat the coronavirus battle
The government’s approach to limit the rising number of coronavirus patients has been well-thought. The first measure was to conduct coronavirus tests at no cost for citizens, domestic workers of UAE citizens, specific categories of residents such as people of determination, pregnant women, aged citizens, and residents who display symptoms of coronavirus or interact with those infected. The second measure was the launch of the drive-through child vaccination programme to inoculate children in vehicles parked outside health centres as part of the National Immunisation Programme. The third measure was implementation of administrative violations and penalties ranging from Dh 3,000 to Dh 1,00,000 for not limiting the spread of the infection. The fourth measure was the introduction of various initiatives such as the coronavirus testing centre, ‘Be Well’ community campaign to protect health and safety of workers and ‘Be the Safety Bridge’ initiative to support physical and psychological health of women among other initiatives. The fifth measure was the grant of a golden resident visa for 10 years to frontline health workers who treat coronavirus patients at the Dubai Health Authority.
This explains the country’s integrated healthcare system. The Covid Central Command Centre is a key facility where all initiatives, programmes and challenges are translated into unified practices and policies. Eyad Al-Musa, Partner, Digital Health at PwC told International Finance, “I think the UAE has made great strides in supporting its frontline staff in recognition of their dedication and commitment to serving patients during the pandemic. For example, Dubai has granted frontline workers the ability to get a 10 year residency visa. There was also a government announcement to provide key sector workers with a bonus scheme for their contribution to the pandemic efforts. Several experiences have also been made to deploy robots to help front-line staff in critical coronavirus areas of the facilities.”
The coronavirus is speeding up technology advancements
Another factor determining the country’s course of action to contain the spread of the infection is its well-planned ehealth strategy which is developed to accelerate digital adoption. The coronavirus is in fact catalysing this strategy which is constantly evolving on the back of advanced technologies and research. “With the attention of the key healthcare services towards the pandemic, this has brought about the urgent need to look for contactless channels to deal with non-Covid-19 patients needing emergency treatment. The acceleration of the digital adoption has been noticed in both private and public sector providers,” Eyad Al-Musa said. “This is clearly manifesting itself in an uptake in virtual care solutions. While lots of digital healthcare solutions have been started, the pandemic has made these solutions more prominent and more important.”
A holistic approach to virtual medicine is on the horizon. A study published by PwC showed that 67 percent of consumers are willing to receive healthcare services through virtual means in the Middle East. “The more we can bring the healthcare services much closer to the patient’s own environment and setting, the more we are going to succeed at getting better results and better support for our patients.,” Eyad Al-Musa said. In March, the UAE Ministry of Health collaborated with Du, a leading telecom company for setting up the first virtual hospital in the Middle East. While this new set up is aimed at providing remote care to patients it also helps to contain the spread of the infection.
“The UAE has been no exception to the trends happening around the world in terms of acceleration of adoption of the virtual care solutions. Anything ranging from using video consultation to remote patient monitoring at home are becoming the norm in terms of healthcare provision,” Eyad Al-Musa explained. “Several key procedures have been introduced to safeguard the safety of both public, patients and key staff to avoid any unnecessary risk being taken under the current circumstances. We believe that the trend is going to keep the same level of acceleration during and beyond Covid-19. Anyway Covid-19 has been the catalyst and the driver for the acceleration in Digital Health Services.”
ehospitals curb infection spread and win profits
In fact, all leading public and private hospitals have established virtual clinics such as Aster DM’s Virtual Outpatient Department and TruDoc 24×7’s Health & Wellness Virtual Clinic—demonstrating examples of how ehealth is becoming a popular trend in the country. One proof that ehospitals have become so versatile is because highly recognised hospitals like Mulk Healthcare has launched its first ehospital through an app to provide global healthcare services with the assistance of medical experts from the US, the UK, Thailand, Pakistan, Europe, India and other GCC nations. Even the UAE Ministry of Health Prevention upgraded all its hospital’s outpatients clinics to virtual.
“Till May, virtual clinics of the Ministry of Health Prevention provided services to more than 15,000 patients,” Gupta and Das said. The popularity of ehospitals can be attributed to its vision in supporting the greater objective of the country—which is to improve the “accessibility of healthcare services in rural and remote areas, decrease healthcare costs, reduce the burden on healthcare systems, provide preventive care and catapult digital transformation by embracing new technologies in such setups.” Today, the concept of virtual hospitals have become even more important than ever in the country because the increasing need of ICU beds has put a lot of pressure on hospitals to expand capacity with Covid and non-Covid patients in critical conditions. “With the shortage of bedside staff and intensivists, the need to look at solutions such as Tele-ICU is becoming more important. Such solutions deployed in a central hub model can provide resources where they are needed and increase the coverage of ICU beds,” Eyad Al-Musa said.
According to Gupta and Das, some of the smart solutions deployed to fight the coronavirus are laser-based DPI technology for test, smartwatch to monitor self-isolating patients, AI in taxis to contain the infection spread, StayHome app for self-quarantining individuals and Virtual Doctor for Covid-19 which “allows people to assess whether their symptoms could be associated with the novel coronavirus.” It seems that a myriad of solutions are designed to virtualise healthcare in the country’s private and public sectors. For individuals, all the resources are instantly available in their own environment with an “ability to monitor them 24/7 remotely from a central location resembling a command and control system.” This model is still in the experimental stage. Although “early indications are showing positive results, we are far from this model becoming the norm,” Eyad Al-Musa concluded.