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UAE: Health authorities train regional staff on Covid virus sequencing


Two-week-long workshop trains frontliners from seven MENA countries

Health authorities in Abu Dhabi have trained medical staff from seven regional countries on sequencing and analysis of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for Covid-19. Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre (ADPHC) hosted a two-week-long workshop for staff from regional National Influenza Centres. It was held at the Reference Laboratory for Infectious Disease (Surveillance Laboratory) of Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC), part of the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA). The workshop was organised in partnership with the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Ministry of Health (MoH), and the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (EMRO), and attended by medical staff from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Libya and Sudan. Dr Francis Selvaraj, senior research scientist at SKMC, along with Dr Antoine Aboufayad and Dr Rabeh Elshesheny from the WHO, trained the staff on the approved protocol for sequencing SARS-CoV-2 to determine the virus’ lineage and identify emerging mutations and new strains. The Department of Health – Abu Dhabi (DoH) and ADPHC have been working with SKMC’s Surveillance Laboratory, which acts as the UAE’s National Influenza Centre, on a genomic surveillance project since the start of 2021. In partnership with the WHO, the project has been sequencing samples from countries in the region that lack the necessary lab capacity while also monitoring circulating strains of SARS-CoV-2 within the UAE. Dr Farida Al Hosani, Executive Director of Infectious Diseases and Official Spokesperson for the UAE Health Sector, underlined that ADPHC has played a vital role in training regional labs on next-generation sequencing aids. “Virus genome sequencing is a powerful tool in the diagnosis of Covid-19 and in comprehending the spread and control of the novel mutated strains. Long-term, this will enable public health authorities to improve the precision, efficacy, and efficiency of public health decision-making responses. The workshop was a collaborative success. We continue working hand in hand to combat the pandemic.” Dr Stefan Weber, acting medical director of the Reference Laboratory for Infectious Diseases, noted that the skill of sequencing is crucial to the current pandemic. “Every participant has a high responsibility when they go back to their home countries in helping them to spread these skills,” said Dr Weber, who is also the consultant microbiologist at SKMC. ‘SARS-CoV-2 is rapidly mutating’ Dr Selvaraj said that SKMC is proud to support the efforts of the WHO in helping regional labs tackle the pandemic with even greater efficiency. “There is no denying that SARS-CoV-2 is rapidly mutating, with each variant starkly different in its speed of transmission. This workshop took a crucial step toward understanding the virus and will help the region towards public health decisions. The event was a resounding success and was quite a team effort.” Dr Amal Barakat, technical officer, Infectious Hazard Preparedness Unit Health Emergencies Programme, WHO EMRO, pointed out that the main objective of the workshop was to train and equip the region’s labs with next-generation sequencing, especially related to SARS-CoV-2. “Our aim was to understand how it spreads and infects and identify any new emerging strains. Our best chance in fighting the spread and emergence of new strains is to understand the strains present among us. Fighting this pandemic is a team effort, which was represented by the willingness of regional medical teams to attend the workshop.” The workshop was organised by Dr Barakat, Dr Weber and Sahar Ahmed Almarzooqi, project coordinator from SKMC.