Relatively high rates of recovery from COVID-19 infection have put the GCC bloc in the limelight even though their efforts to keep new cases under control have produced mixed results so far.
The number of coronavirus cases in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region crossed 1,676,497 on Sept. 8, according to Worldometers data collated by the journal MEED. Of the total, the six member states of the GCC accounted for 44.7 percent while Iran made up another 23.2 percent.
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However, according to recently published research findings, the GCC bloc’s recovery rates are significantly higher than the global average. An average of 81.4 percent of patients had recovered in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman compared with the global figure of 57 percent.
Each GCC member country also scored well above the global average individually. An average of 81.4 percent of patients had recovered in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman compared with the global figure of 57 percent.
Each GCC member country scored well above the global average: Bahrain at 89.2 percent, the UAE (86.8 percent), and Oman (66.7 percent).
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, said 93 percent of all COVID-19 patients in the Kingdom had recovered from the disease; of a 325,651 recorded cases, the number of recoveries stood at 302,870.
The other GCC findings were released by CoronaTracker.com, a project of more than 460 data scientists, medics and developers monitoring and analyzing global trends related to the pandemic.
It sources data from a range of international media and public agencies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
The recovery rate represents the percentage of a country’s population confirmed to have been infected by the virus who have made a full recovery. Today, the metric is considered vital for measuring the effectiveness of countries’ responses to the pandemic.
In Bahrain, the kingdom’s strong recovery rates have been publicized by the National Taskforce for Combating Coronavirus to highlight measures taken to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“International praise for our work from the WHO is evidence that we have taken the right approach to tackle the virus,” said Dr. Waleed Khalifa Al-Manea, undersecretary at the Bahraini Ministry of Health and a member of the taskforce at the time.
“This should be an incentive to remain resilient as national containment efforts continue. Bahrain’s recovery rate currently stands at 83.85 percent with a 0.32 percent death rate — isolation center capacity stands at 34 percent, with 2,839 out of 8,357 beds occupied, and 1,814 asymptomatic cases are under optional home self-isolation after meeting the set criteria.”
The GCC has previously received praise from the WHO for its early, rapid and robust response to the outbreak. Speed played a major role in preventing the spread of the infection and ensuring health care services were not overwhelmed. This resulted in the region’s strong recovery rates.
“(This is due to) economically developed societies that had made the population aware that they take the maximum precautions, availability of self-hygiene kits with suitable prices (that match people’s) personal income, and modern hospitals that provided updated machines and technologies under insurance coverage for most individuals,” said Dr. Rasha Alani, from Medcare Medical Center in Dubai’s Al-Khawaneej.
“So people had the chance to protect themselves and were treated with high-quality services in this area rather than in other places that had so many obstacles.”
She said that awareness campaigns and advertisements by health authorities had also helped.
“Gulf countries had those results as they have a young society, in other words, they had a less geriatric population,” she told Arab News. “All the studies concerned reflect the healthy and high hygiene habits among citizens and expats.”
Bahrain was one of the first countries to shut down all educational institutions, from kindergartens to universities, and ground flights until quarantine facilities were in place.
Saudi Arabia banned foreign pilgrimage to Makkah before it registered its first infection, and every GCC member had shut down schools and universities by mid-March, with non-essential businesses to follow. By the end of March, almost every member country had suspended international passenger flights.
“The extent to which people are willing to buy goods and services that require physical contact depends on perceptions of the health risks associated with COVID-19,” said Dr. Omar Al-Ubaydli, director of research at the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies.
“In this regard, a low death rate is advantageous, as it accelerates the return of trust among the population. Gulf countries have shown high recovery rates for those affected by COVID-19, which is partially a reflection of effective public health policies and, in the long term, this will contribute to a faster recovery.”
Technological innovation and digital connectivity were found to have played an equally crucial role. In the UAE, police deployed smart helmets capable of scanning temperatures of hundreds of people every minute, while Bahrain used multilingual robots on isolation wards to check body temperatures, administer medicine, serve meals and sterilize treatment rooms with ultraviolet light.
Bahrain and the UAE were found to lead much of the world in testing rates, ranking fifth and sixth, respectively, for rate of tests per million people.
“As governments around the world continue to grapple with how to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, speed of response and immediate action played a major role in preventing the spread of infection and ensuring health care services were not overwhelmed,” said Dr. Mohaymen Abdelghany, CEO of Al-Zahra Hospital in Dubai.
“This resulted in the region’s strong recovery rates. The government also took various serious measures of social distancing and mobilization at a very early stage, such as movement permits and sanitization programs, which play a pivotal role.”
He cited the example of the UAE’s response and, in particular, Dubai, which established the COVID-19 Command and Control Center with Al-Zahra Hospital Dubai as an integral member.
“It did not function as a single unit but as a collaboration among several hospitals, agencies, departments, and individual volunteers, igniting a cohesive approach to conquer the pandemic (and) uniting the public and private health care sectors,” Abdelghany told Arab News. “Multiple entities working together proved beneficial to easily facilitate patient movement and effective virus containment.”
Thanks to near real-time accurate data and updates on bed capacity from hospitals, patients could be transferred and assigned to hospitals, institutional isolation facilities or homes according to clinical nature, allowing Dubai to become a “great model” of public-private partnership, he said.
“GCC countries have gone to extensive lengths to ensure their population has access to testing,” Abdelghany said.
“The UAE has become among the first countries in the world with populations over 1 million to hit a 50 percent testing rate for COVID-19. This milestone means that scientists in these nations can accurately analyze the spread of the coronavirus with a greater level of infection data per capita than anywhere else worldwide.”
He said that as the economy continues to open up, testing and contact tracing, along with isolation strategies adopted by the UAE, will allow for safer opening of schools, restaurants, hotels, tourism and other industries.
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