COVID-19: How Abu Dhabi public health chief protected community even as he battled the virus himself


Matar Al Nuami
Matar Al Nuaimi
Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: As the COVID-19 outbreak hit the UAE, one of Abu Dhabi’s top health chiefs found himself down with the virus.

Fighting the coronavirus in isolation for 20 days, Matar Al Nuaimi, director general of the Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre and director of the Emergency and Disaster Management division, still worked every day to protect the community.

In one of the biggest battles of his life, Al Nuaimi was responsible for mobilising a huge part of the UAE’s response against COVID-19, even as he performed his job from a hospital bed while in medical isolation.

A former military man, namely Staff Colonel in the UAE Armed Forces, Al Nuaimi recounted some of the details of his fight.

“It was fate. It was my fate to deal with COVID-19 both, professionally and as a patient. On February 8, I started getting sick – I had a fever and a feeling that it was COVID-19, so I went directly to the hospital and got tested. I had the symptoms, and when the test results came out positive, it was very stressful for me and my family,” Al Nuaimi said.

But the official was determined to help protect the UAE during these challenging times.

“I was determined not to stop performing my duty even for a single day though I was in isolation. I felt that my duty was pushing me to continue working, I wanted my teams in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Al Dhafra to see me on daily basis, aiming to promote the idea that no matter what we are going through, we all are in this fight together, to serve our part toward our country and the UAE community,” he said.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, called His Excellency personally during his hospital stay to check on him.

Al Nuaimi’s efforts have been evident, and his ‘lead by example’ approach has been highly effective. However, he explained that his personal experience has been minor compared to the larger task at hand.

“The story really began a long time ago, following a statement from the World Health Organisation made about a big risk posed by a potential pandemic of an infectious disease transmitting through airborne particles. This led us to mobilise all efforts in preparation for the disease, and it has subsequently proved to be an important and effective element in our response to Covid-19 when it eventually came,” Al Nuaimi said.

The preparations included training, medical capabilities and equipment, as well as communication and integration of the UAE’s many health care systems.

“This was all before COVID-19 actually hit. Therefore, we were keen to start some necessary procedures to introduce health workers to the disease and its pathology. We [sent out a circular as early as January 21] that the infection will inevitably reach the UAE, and that immediate preparation and processing is the first thing we do,” the chief said.

Thereafter, action was swift, decisive, and multi-faceted. It included educating medics on the symptoms, and bringing an early reference sample of the virus to the laboratory at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City. The number of labs was quickly grown, and 39 mobile surveillance teams were launched for public screenings. Efforts were undertaken to pro-actively test the vulnerable, and identify and open isolation centres and field hospitals.

Community spirit

Another important and vital element focused on informing and educating the public about all information related to the disease.

“We did not want to overwhelm the health sector; putting that amount of pressure on the healthcare system could result in unwelcomed outcomes, and you would not be able to do anything else,” Al Nuaimi said.

He also added how he had been impressed by the community spirit from people of all sectors and nationalities, and himself paid tribute to frontline heroes, who he said were the backbone of the fight against the pandemic.

“They have sacrificed a lot: time with their family, their rest, their health, maybe even their own mental wellbeing. I know people that work during peak times in stressful places – laboratory, ambulance services, emergency room, ICUs. It is stressful by nature. Under these circumstances, people from all areas have pulled together, and this dedication, this commitment is unique in the UAE,” Al Nuaimi said.

The official also expressed his support for the newly-formed Frontline Heroes Office, which was established in July 2020.


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