Monday, December 04, 2023 | Daily Newspaper published by GPPC Doha, Qatar.
 Joseph Varghese
Joseph Varghese
A journalist with a penchant for reporting events, Joseph Varghese digs deep to unearth facts. With several years of experience, including at Gulf Times, Joseph handles health, science and technology, IT and education in addition to everyday developments.
Khalid al-Mohannadi
Qatar has become more self-reliant and united

The blockade against Qatar has brought everyone together and work for the progress of the country in a highly determined manner, making the country far more resilient and self-reliant, noted a prominent Qatari entrepreneur. “The blockade was a big shock in the beginning and I could not even believe such a thing happening, especially from the brotherly countries. But the shock gradually made us believe in ourselves and the leadership of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. As days progressed, people started gaining more confidence and the leadership made us believe that we could overcome any crisis ,” recalled, Khalid al-Mohannadi, an entrepreneur and the former communications manager at Sidra Medicine and Qatar Science and Technology Park. According to him, the blockade has brought the people of the country together- citizens and residents - giving a better sense of unity and harmony among the population. “While in the initial days, food was a major concern for all. We were also concerned about the security of the country. But as days progressed both the concerns started disappearing. Whenever, we go to the hypermarkets, it was heartening to see the shelves filled with food products from all around the world." He said the blockade has resulted in making Qatar a self–reliant and self-believing country and created a sort of fighting spirit among the people who stood like a rock behind the leadership of the country. “Earlier, we were flooded with products from the blockading countries. But as the 'flying cows' reached Qatar the whole scenario changed and it was the beginning. It was a defining moment in the history of modern Qatar since the blockade. People realised that we have to be self-reliant and this led to the start of several new initiatives. We have started making many things and this has resulted in transforming the economy of the country,” he noted. He also highlighted that the country has promoted entrepreneurship in a big way and many have started setting up new successful ventures and businesses. The government supported start-ups and other new ventures with strong incentives, he said adding the industrial production and other economic activities increased many fold because of the official encouragement.

,We have got a private airline to make the operations and hope to offer an affordable fare and help all the needy people,u201d says Basheer
Indian forum likely to start chartered flights to Kerala from June 7

An Indian forum is likely to start chartered flights from Doha to Kerala from next Sunday, bringing respite to several hundreds of stranded persons from the south Indian state. They have been unable to return due to the flight disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. “We are planning to operate chartered flights to all the four international airports (Kozhikode, Kochi, Kannur and Thiruvananthapuram) in Kerala most likely from Sunday, June 7," SAM Basheer, president of Qatar Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC), told Gulf Times. "We have got the necessary permission from the government of India in this regard and final approval from the state government of Kerala is being finalised,” he explained. Basheer said that the organisation so far got around 16,000 applications to travel to various destinations in Kerala. “We are planning to arrange one flight each to all the four destinations a day. We are scrutinising the applications and so far detected about 2,000 duplicate applications. We have got a private airline to make the operations and hope to offer an affordable fare and help all the needy people,” he stated. “Kozhikode has the maximum demand among those who have registered for the travel. There is also an equal demand for Kochi, followed by Kannur and Thiruvananthapuram. Our plan is to make sure that everyone in need can reach their home safe and secure. They will have to strictly follow all the guidelines issued by the respective authorities in India,” he continued. However, the official advised that only those who are in need, should travel now and others must stay back. “This arrangement is made for people who are in distress and those who have serious health issues to travel back. Those who have valid visa and do not have any health problems should not try to travel now. They can wait until the normal travel schedules are opened up,” he maintained. “There are many who have come on visit visa or business visa for various purposes. There are many jobless people without any income and not in a position to meet their daily needs. There are also many suffering from illnesses. These are our priority and others should try to avoid travel plans now,” Basheer added.

Dr Ahmed Elmagarmid (L), Dr Sanjay Chawla
Internet search for Covid-19 symptoms on the rise in Qatar

There has been an increase in the number of people searching the Internet for the symptoms of Covid-19 recently, according to findings presented at a webinar by Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI), part of Hamad Bin Khalifa University. “One interesting thing in Qatar is that more and more people are searching about the symptoms of Covid-19. Earlier, more people were searching for the Covid-19 virus and its impacts,” said Dr Sanjay Chawla, director of the Qatar Centre for Artificial Intelligence at QCRI. “The online trends are almost the same elsewhere in the world. In the US, people were searching for facts about virus and then the symptoms of the disease as well as unemployment and the political aspects of the disease. In Qatar, the main search topics were the virus and the symptoms of the disease. This shows that people are more cautious about the disease,” explained Dr Chawla. Dr Chawla was moderating the last session of a webinar series organised by QCRI to discuss the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in fighting Covid-19. The webinar series, ‘AI and Data Science for Covid-19’, discussed how data exploration can help manage the disease and respond positively to the crisis management of the disease. According to Dr Ahmed Elmagarmid, executive director of QCRI, scientists at Qatar Foundation’s research centres will go back to the drawing board to find ways to improve their solutions once the situation has been contained. As for the efforts to contains the disease in Qatar, Dr Elmagarmid highlighted that the lockdown efforts have paid well in controlling the intensity of the disease in the country. “Lockdown measures have helped contain the disease in a very big way. That is why we have a very low number of serious hospital cases,” he noted. He highlighted that introducing new technology, especially in the middle of a pandemic, and adapting to it is hard. “I asked myself, why is contact-tracing or most of the contact-tracing in China automated, and has very high proliferation? And then, reading an article I saw, in New York, they were very proud that they trained 300 contact tracers. So, there is this sort of gap between technology and its adoption. “When you’ve got healthcare workers and public health officials running around, trying to deal with life and death situations, and you’re handing them a technology that’s new to them, it won’t be very effective. As technologists and computer scientists, we have to step back and see how we develop and how we introduce new technology.” As for contact tracing apps and citizens’ privacy, Dr Faisal Farooq, principal scientist and head, Digital Health Research at QCRI, said: “Any kind of crisis has led to this – as we know historically. After 9/11, people gave up a lot of their civil rights. This caused a backlash, but then after a lot of introspection, people started realising that the shift had happened. And this is no different.” However, Dr Farooq highlighted that as researchers, especially from the computer science and technology sector, their responsibility should be to create solutions that draw a fine balance between privacy and civil rights. “There is the policy side of things where we can definitely enforce our influence – this is where we create solutions to solve problems while also taking into consideration the issues of privacy. It should not be a case of giving up one thing to get another.” QCRI scientists Dr Ashraf Aboulnada, Dr Kareem Darwish and Dr Preslav Nakov also took part in the panel discussion.

Dr Ahmed al-Mohamed
Failing in timely testing for Covid-19 can lead to complications: HMC expert

People should immediately get tested for Covid-19 if they develop any symptoms of the disease as any delay could cause complications, a top physician has cautioned. “Any delay in seeking medical advice and undergoing testing if necessary, could lead to difficulties in the treatment of the disease,” Dr Ahmed al-Mohamed, chairman of the Department of Medicine, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) told Gulf Times. “Covid-19 is just like any other disease. The earlier we detect it and the earlier we treat it, the better is the outcome. If delayed, there could be difficulties in treating the disease and the outcome may not be very good,” he warned. Dr al-Mohamed said that Covid-19 is a new disease and the medical community as well as others are learning about it on a daily basis. “We have to keep in mind that it is a new disease and therefore we get more information about it from around the world every now and then. Depending on the new information, there might be changes in the treatment plan. So any delay in getting the proper medical advice can complicate the treatment and how to deal with the disease in terms of prevention and treatment,” explained, Dr al-Mohamed. According to the physician, frequent changes in the information about the disease is another reason for the changes in the recommendations to fight the disease. “We encourage people to undergo tests immediately if they find any symptoms to prevent the spread of the disease. We conduct the tests free of charge. We also conduct screening in the areas that seem to be affected. Undergo testing and this can help the community at large,” he noted. The physician also stated that fever is a main symptom of Covid-19 and should be always taken care of seriously. Similarly, it is very important to wear mask, wash hands frequently and use sanitisers to avoid spreading the disease. “Testing is very important to identify the disease especially among people with no symptoms or very mild symptoms. A vast majority of the people who are affected by the disease are asymptomatic or with very mild symptoms. They account for almost 90% of the cases. There are also some who have mild symptoms which are similar to cold and it may disappear after a few days. Only through testing such cases can be confirmed. Very few people need hospital treatment. Even lesser number of people may need admission in the intensive care unit who might need ventilators,” he pointed out. Dr al-Mohamed maintained that the best way to prevent Covid-19 is to test early and treat it in advance as testing will lead to early diagnosis, treatment and saving lives eventually. He also highlighted that there have been some changes in the policies about treating Covid-19 because of the latest findings and there is no need to test the people after 14 days of treatment as it can be misleading at times. “Even the dead virus could be tested positive. Only the initial test is important and the repeated tests are not recommended anymore,” he added.

WISH CEO Sultana Afdhalrnrn
Qatar provides significant mental health support during Covid-19

Qatar has provided very strong mental health support for the community right from the early days of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak in the country and will continue to do so, a top official of Qatar Foundation’s global healthcare initiative has highlighted. “Qatar took a strong approach to safeguarding mental health from day one. The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) created a hotline staffed by psychologists who speak different languages and were available for help and support,” Sultana Afdhal, CEO, World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), told Gulf Times. “MoPH has also produced and distributed mental health guides for construction workers in a variety of languages that advise them on what to do in terms of personal safety and where they can access the services they need. The ministry is also co-ordinating with the Primary Health Care Corporation and Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) to provide the necessary services,” continued Afdhal. The official also noted that Qatar’s Mental Health Friends Association (Weyak) has been in the frontline to assist the people in distress during the pandemic. “Weyak has been running programmes throughout to help people cope with the feelings of uncertainty that come with people wondering when all this is going to end. For instance, there are understandably high levels of anxiety among labourers coming from poorer countries, who worry about losing money and jobs if they are infected and cannot work. They now have the information they need to get the right support,” she explained. “Similarly, other people may be feeling depressed or anxious about being isolated, but they also have speedy access to a support network to help them fight those feelings and stay mentally healthy. HMC also has a dedicated mental health department that operates on a 24-hour basis, and some hospitals and clinics in Al Rayyan, Al Khor, and Al Wakra are offering personal services for people who don’t want to talk on the phone. There are also services to support the mental health of people in hospital as well as in quarantine,” she highlighted. Afdhal feels that researching on the effects of the current pandemic on the nervous system is a crucial part of the ongoing tradition of strengthening future responses. She is also of the opinion that the healthcare landscape will undoubtedly change in response to the turn of events that the epidemic has wrought on the lives of the people. “Each experience has yielded important data and data collection methods that have shaped the responses of future generations to similar outbreaks so that they can be better managed. Research outcomes will play a vital role in building those parts of the health system that provide specific mental health therapy and treatment to those affected by the pandemic, as well as informing policy makers’ decisions during the design of healthcare systems around mental health,” she maintained. According to the WISH CEO, Qatar’s healthcare system has an established infrastructure for tackling communicable diseases as well as ensuring mental health of the population. “It is important to remember that we have not faced an epidemic on this scale for a century, since the 1918 flu pandemic. The speed and the spread of the Covid-19 virus was a shock to global healthcare systems and exposed several gaps in preparedness but Qatar took the decision early on to build temporary hospitals to provide the necessary capacity. Some of these will now remain to serve the country during any future needs,” added Afdhal.

Dr Stephan Lorenz and Dr Khalid Fakhro
Sidra's new method seeks to reduce shortage of Covid-19 testing kits

A new testing method for Covid-19, developed by Sidra Medicine, part of Qatar Foundation, aims to reduce global shortage of testing kits and is a proof of Qatar’s resilience, an official told Gulf Times. Sidra Medicine had recently announced the development of an in-house RNA (Ribonucleic acid) extraction method using alternative test components. “It is a testing mechanism to help address the global shortage in test kits. When extraction kits are limited, the delays in sample processing can lead to natural degradation of the viral RNA, potentially leading to false negative results. Our method helps to address the challenges around the shortage of materials and delays in Covid-19 tests,” said Dr Khalid Fakhro, acting chief research officer of Sidra Medicine. According to the official, the new method helps in getting accurate results within four to eight hours and since it is under Open Access Licence, it is open to any healthcare organisation for their consideration. “Our in-house extraction approach is an example of the resilience that Qatar has built by investing in sustainable biomedical research. It ensures we have alternative methods available to test for coronavirus even when there are critical shortages in supply chains around the world,” Fakhro said. “It was a collaborative method developed by the pathology and research departments by leveraging our enhanced robotics infrastructure. Combined with the team’s experience in single-cell RNA research, we have a solution that matches standard clinical methods being used worldwide, but also requires less reagents and running time,” explained Dr Fakhro. Sidra Medicine is already using the new test method for in-house testing on inpatients as well as other visitors to the facility. “Sidra Medicine is not designated to treat Covid-19 patients however in order to keep our hospital free from Covid-19 and for the safety of our patients, their families and staff, we test for the coronavirus using the new method on our inpatients and their guardians or companions staying with them in the hospital. Where applicable, certain staff are also tested,” Dr Stephan Lorenz, director of Integrated Genomics Services at Sidra Medicine, said. According to Lorenz, the new approach reduces the cost of the most expensive part of the Covid-19 lab testing, which is the extraction and purification of the genetic material from the virus. “It is most cost efficient when used to test large batches of samples at the same time. Our testing approach has equivalent accuracy to the commercially available methods used around the world. Most importantly, this method does not compete for the same commercial reagents used in most clinical laboratories,” he said. “This method is of global importance as other nations face limited extraction kit availability and have to consider alternative options. To share this innovation, we have published the protocol under an Open Access Licence for the benefit of other healthcare organisations around the world,” Lorenz said. “The new high-throughput extraction method can be ramped up to process 4,000 extractions per day as needed. Since it does not require reagents used in current commercial extraction systems, it is more cost efficient and also bypasses current shortages in commercially available extraction reagents. Our testing approach has equivalent accuracy to the commercially available methods used around the world to test for Covid-19,” he added.

Dr Muthana al-Salihirnrn
Never panic but don’t underestimate Covid-19, says recovered paediatric surgeon

People should never panic about Covid-19, but must also not underestimate the disease and should follow all social distancing measures, a paediatric surgeon who recovered from Covid-19 recently told Gulf Times. “First thing is that you must not panic about Covid-19 as it is not very deadly and only a very low percentage of the people are affected severely by this disease. But at the same time, don’t underestimate the disease. People must strictly follow the directives of the government and healthcare officials and stay home as much as possible,” said Dr Muthana al-Salihi, who works as a paediatric surgeon with Sidra Medicine as well as Hamad Medical Corporation. Dr al-Salihi, who plans to resume his work after the Eid holidays, says he has no idea how he contracted the disease. “I do not know how I contracted this disease. I was never in physical contact with any Covid-19 cases and had always taken all the Precautions. So, it points to the fact that all should take the maximum care to avoid the spread of the disease,” he noted. According to Dr al-Salihi, it all started on April 12. “It started with non-specific symptoms such as a sore throat and severe back pain. Three days later, I lost taste and smell sensations totally. So, I checked with some of my colleagues specialised in infectious diseases, who advised me to undergo a swab test” he continued. “I waited for two more days and during this period I developed dry cough and chest pain. Then I was taken to the Communicable Disease Center (CDC) where they collected all the details and took the swab test. It was April 19 and I tested positive for Covid-19. I was asked to isolate from my family members and a medical team arrived and did a swab test of all the people in the family,” he recalled. The same day, he was taken to the CDC and the medical team conducted several blood tests and an x-ray was taken. “Later, they confirmed that the infection had entered my lungs and I was suffering from pneumonia. However, it was moderate and I was admitted to the hospital and they started medication. There were five types of medication and two of them were antibiotics. They also treated me with an antimalarial drug and two antiviral medicines,” he added. The paediatric surgeon pointed out that all these are supportive medications help prevent the progression of the virus while some of them might have helped improve immunity. “My conditions started improving after five days and I was under regular monitoring for vital signs and oxygen saturation by the medical team and the nursing staff. After seven days, I was swabbed and it turned to be negative. After 24 hours, another swab test was done, which also turned to be negative. So, I was declared ‘recovered’ as the recovery procedure mandates two negative swab tests in 24 hours. I had a total stay of nine days in the hospital,” he noted. He continued the medication for another couple of days and underwent 14 days of quarantine as advised by the medical team to isolate himself from others, especially from people with chronic illnesses, elderly people and other vulnerable groups. “One week after getting discharged from the hospital, I became normal and all the symptoms of Covid-19 disappeared. I thank all the heroes of the medical team in Qatar, the entire healthcare system and the government for the excellent care. I am also thankful for the mental and psychological support in helping me recover from the disease,” added the Iraqi national who has worked in Qatar for the last 15 years.

Gulf Times
Indian students appeal for local centre for NEET examination

Several Indian students from Qatar, set to appear for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (Neet 2020), have appealed to the authorities in India to allot an examination centre in Qatar due to the adverse situation arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic. The new travel restrictions and the Covid-19 related regulations will adversely impact the preparations, performance and even the participation in the examination, some of the parents of the students have pointed out. Neet is the sole all India based entrance test for admission to medicine programmes in India and it is learnt that about 300 students from Qatar have registered to take part in the examination. They also note that there is already a centre for JEE (Joint Entrance Examination) in Qatar, another all India entrance test for admission to engineering programmes and a similar centre can be opened here for Neet too. The students and their parents feel if the authorities both in India and Qatar consider their request a similar centre for Neet can be allotted in Qatar. NEET 2020 was originally scheduled to be held on May 3, but was postponed due to Covid-19 scare in India and will now be conducted on July 26. Most of these students have been undertaking special coaching for the examination for about two years and it is one of the toughest examinations to qualify. If the students fail to take the examination this year, they will have to wait for another year for the next examination. “My child has been preparing for the Neet examination for a very long time. In the present situation, it will be very difficult for her to travel to India and attend the examination. We are not sure when we can get a flight to travel. Moreover, if the child travels to India, she has to go for mandatory quarantine for 14 days and thereafter another 14 days of home quarantine. This will lead to the students to lose focus,” said Suresh kumar, parent of a student at Birla Public School. “Another issue is that at least one of the parents also have to travel with the students for guidance and local logistics arrangements. We are not yet sure where will be the test centre and if the child does not get a nearby centre, it will again be another issue as they have to travel to unknown and faraway places,” he continued. According to another parent whose child is a student of MES Indian School, it would be risky for the children to travel as they might get exposed to the pandemic. “We have seen several people become Covid-19 positive after travelling in larger groups,” he explained. “Therefore, we request the authorities to consider the request and provide a local centre so that our children can take the examination with enough preparation and confidence. We have already made formal requests and are hopeful that the Indian embassy and other community leaders will assist us in this genuine request,” he added. It is also learnt that similar requests have been made by students from other Gulf countries too.

Some of the materials supplied by KMCC in Qatar.
Indian forum plans chartered flights to Kerala

An Indian organisation is mulling the idea of chartering flights to the southern state of Kerala at a ‘reasonable and competent fare’ to repatriate community members stranded due to Covid-19. “We are in talks with various ministries of the Government of India as well as various airlines to charter flights," S A M Basheer, president of Qatar Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC), told Gulf Times. S A M Basheer "If the authorities concerned approve the proposals, we can arrange the flights to the four international airports in Kerala within a few days on a very competitive and reasonable fare,” he explained. It is learnt that over 44,000 Indians, including several thousand Keralites, have registered with the Indian embassy for repatriation citing urgent matters. The number of flights allotted to Kerala from Qatar as part of ‘Vande Bharat’ mission are few in number while the demand is so high. KMCC has over 26,000 members in Qatar. The organisation is happy to make arrangements for the needy community members from Kerala to fly home, according to Basheer. "What we are offering is a one-way ticket on discounted rates to Kerala. We are in talks with the Indian Embassy, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Ministry of External Affairs and different airlines to charter the flights. We have already submitted application to the authorities concerned and waiting for approvals. The facility is exclusively for Keralites, not just for our members," Basheer explained. “We are happy to make the necessary arrangements to charter the flights, provided the governments permit us. It is done without any profit and purely on humanitarian consideration,” continued, Basheer. The KMCC official said that among the stranded people, there are many jobless people without any income and not in a position to meet their daily needs. There are also many suffering from illnesses. “The number of chartered flights will depend on the approval from the government and the number of people who come forward to register for the facility, noted Basheer. The official highlighted that last month, KMCC delivered food kits to over 20,000 people as well as 1,250 Iftar kits daily during the holy month of Ramadan. In collaboration with Hamad Blood Donation Centre, KMCC recently organised blood donation camps twice. KMCC has also a ‘Medichain’ service to bring medicines from India for patients, which was helpful to thousands of expats suffering from illnesses.

WISH CEO Sultana Afdhal with WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (file picture)
WISH to conduct research on Covid-19, include it in 2020 summit

World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), a global healthcare initiative of Qatar Foundation, is engaged in a major research on Covid-19 with plans for an extensive discussion in its upcoming global summit from November 16-18 in Doha, Gulf Times has learnt. “In response to the pandemic, we are not only involved in research but also in a number of community outreach activities that aim to help people cope better with the current situation, Sultana Afdhal, CEO, WISH has revealed. The 2020 WISH summit could be one of the first global major forums to discuss the pandemic in detail. “WISH is currently working on two key research reports on ‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Toxic Stress in Children and Mental Health and Digital Technologies.’ to be presented at WISH 2020 summit. Both reports will include special sections on Covid-19 that explore the effects of the pandemic on children’s mental health and other key questions, such as ‘What has COVID-19 crisis exposed around the mental healthcare response in your country?” explained the CEO. “We have developed a survey, in English and Arabic, in collaboration with Qatar Biomedical Research Institute and Qatar Autism Society. Currently under approval, the exercise aims to study the impact of the pandemic on autistic children and their families and find out how they are coping with the situation. We want to understand the effect of the lockdown, how daily lives of these children and their families have changed, how their mental health has been affected, what access they now have to educational or therapeutic activities, and what the mental healthcare support they need,” continued, Afdhal. “Additionally, we are working with our stakeholders in the community to provide educational games to families with children and young adults with autism. At a time when access to specialised services might be limited, it is important to do all that we can to help provide light relief for families,” she noted. Afdhal also said that WISH had recently presented an online talk on how to stay mentally healthy during this time of Covid-19 worry. “The talk included recommendations and advice based on Unicef’s five-point strategy for coping with restrictions because of the pandemic and discussed how to stay positive and mentally healthy during this stressful time. It was an interactive session, and we were glad that so many people asked questions about practical ways to help them cope with the situation,” she pointed out. “We are also working on a policy paper on Dementia. One of the areas of focus will be the emergent gaps in healthcare access for individuals with dementia as well as their caregivers in light of the pandemic, utilising a case study to articulate these challenges and propose policy recommendations,” she highlighted. The official also felt that researching the effects of the current pandemic on the nervous system is a crucial part of strengthening future responses. “Each experience has yielded ever more important data and data collection methods that have shaped the responses of future generations to similar outbreaks, so that they can be better managed. Research outcomes will play a vital role in building those parts of the health system that provide specific mental health therapy and treatment to those affected by the pandemic, as well as informing policy makers’ decisions during the design of healthcare systems around mental health,” she maintained. According to the WISH CEO the speed of the spread of the Covid-19 virus was a shock to global healthcare systems. “Any country had not faced such a situation except for 1918 flu. But Qatar took the decision early on to build temporary hospitals to provide the necessary capacity. Some of these, for example, the Umm Salal and Industrial area temporary hospitals, will now remain to serve during any future outbreaks. The experiences of countries that have faced previous pandemics, such as Sars in Asia and Ebola in Africa, and learned how to be better prepared for them, have shown that having infrastructure already in place for extra capacity is a successful tactic in managing infectious diseases on a large scale,” she added.

Dr Abdullah Rasheed al-Naimi along with other officials at the press conference at the Libsear military field hospital for Covid-19 recovered male patients. PICTURE: Shemeer Rasheed.
Hospital for Covid-19 recovered patients opened

*Libsear military field hospital on Al Sheehaniya- Dukhan Road has 504 single rooms Providing the best care for Covid-19 recovered male patients in Qatar, a new field hospital with 504 beds - all single rooms - has been opened at Al Sheehaniya. “The Libsear military field hospital located near Al Sheehaniya- Dukhan Road has started receiving patients,” said Dr Abdullah Rasheed al-Naimi, clinical lead of the hospital on Wednesday. The facility, built in two weeks’ time, already has about 100 Covid-19 recovered patients. “The hospital, built under the initiative of HE the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Defence Affairs Dr Khalid bin Mohamed al-Attiyah, is a collaboration between the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Public Health,” he explained at a press conference. “The Ministry of Defence proposed this place to build a field hospital to manage and support Covid-19 cases in the country. We evaluated the place just three weeks ago and found it quite suitable. “This complex consists of an administration building and two main buildings meant for the recovered patients. Each building has 252 beds. They are all completely private rooms with attached toilets.” The official said that currently in Qatar there are four major hospitals for treating Covid-19 patients. “Now we have Covid-19 treatment hospitals and non-Covid-19 hospitals. Four big hospitals have been designated exclusively for treating Covid -19 cases. In addition, we have facilities such as these around the country that help Covid-19 recovered patients,” he continued. There are about 70 medical staff working at the hospital including 20 doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff. “When Covid-19 patients are discharged from a hospital, they go home and stay in quarantine. There might be some patients who need some more time to recover fully and they are directed to this place. In such cases, many of them will complete the fourteen days of quarantine here before they head for their places,” noted Dr al-Naimi. “We can receive about 60 patients a day here. Upon completion of the 14-day period, they are swabbed and on finding them negative for Covid-19, they are sent home,” he added. Libsear military field hospital is the second facility of its kind opened in Qatar recently. A few days ago a 200-bed field general hospital was opened for the workers in the Industrial Area, including emergency and outpatient services as well as a Covid- 19 observation facility.

Yasmin Mogahed, Dr Janice Cooper, Mishal Husain, Paola Barbarino, Dr Devora Kestel, Paul Farmer and Dr Sharifa al-Emadi
WHO official advocates for mental health inclusion in Covid-19 recovery plan

Mental health should be a major component of the recovery plan from the Covid-19 pandemic for world governments, a senior official from World Health Organisation (WHO) has highlighted. “Many countries are updating their plans for Covid-19 response. We at WHO are working to ensure that mental health is part of any recovery plan," stated, Dr Devora Kestel, director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. The situation has to go beyond the current isolation and has to take care of every aspect of the individual,” she explained. Dr Kestel was speaking at a virtual event, “ Global Perspectives: Mental Health in a Covid-19 World’ organised by Qatar Foundation’s Education City Speaker Series in collaboration with World Innovation Summit for Health. Other speakers at the webinar were Dr Sharifa al-Emadi, executive director of Doha International Family Institute, a member of Qatar Foundation; Paola Barbarino, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Disease International; Paul Farmer, CEO of UK-based mental health charity Mind; Yasmin Mogahed, author and international public speaker and Dr Janice Cooper, senior project adviser, Global Mental Health, The Carter Centre. The session was moderated by Mishal Husain, global news presenter, journalist, and documentary-maker. Areas featured in the discussion included vulnerable groups such as those with pre-existing mental health conditions, healthcare workers, as well as people grieving the loss of a family member or friend. Speakers focused on the strain that the pandemic and the lockdown of nations, is placing on people’s mental wellbeing, the risks this poses for individuals and societies now and into the future, and the support that needs to be provided to those struggling to cope. “We are now seeing a big impact on the economic situation in every country. We have to take this opportunity to build back better, making sure mental health services are available for those who need them, and moving from institutionalised care to community care ” continued Dr Kestel. “ During the economic depression in 2008, a study showed that the number of suicide and subsistence use cases increased because of unemployment and uncertainty. So we are advocating the inclusion of mental health in any recovery plan to ensure these services even at places where thy are not available.’” explained Dr Kestel. “The optimist in me says that, for the first time, populations are beginning to understand what it means to have their mental health seriously challenged – this crisis brings mental health closer to people, and that hopefully means citizens and governments start to take it more seriously,” noted Farmer. According to Dr al-Emadi, the crisis may reduce the “stigma” surrounding mental health and seeking help, and also reinforce the importance of the family unit. “People are working from home at the same time as caring for their family, so parents have to understand their children, talk with them, and explain the reality of this situation to them. And we must recognise that while we may be physically apart from each other, we can still communicate and protect each other,” she highlighted. “This crisis has shown us that there is a need for greater awareness of the rights of people living with dementia, and that governments were vastly unprepared to deal with this, so it will give us the opportunity to bring the needs of this constituency of people to a higher level,” pointed out, Barbarino. Dr Cooper said, “There is no health without mental health, and healthcare systems will be undermined if it is not addressed. We need to think about what we can do to prevent further mental health conditions, and for those with pre-existing conditions, we have to make sure their status improves rather than deteriorates.” “It’s very humbling and humanising, and is something we are all in together. It can be seen as a lack of connection, or an opportunity to actually connect more deeply with ourselves and our families – if we try to see it through a positive lens, it can help us with our own mental and psychological health. “concluded Mogahed.

Ready to welcome patients: An interior view of the newly opened general field hospital in the Industrial Area. PICTURE: Shemeer Rasheed
New 200-bed general hospital opens in Industrial Area

Qatar has opened a 200-bed general field hospital at the Industrial Area providing emergency, outpatient and Covid-19 health care services to support the community in the locality. The facility which can attend to 2,000 to 3,000 patients a day is meant to ease the pressure on the health care system in the country and help the countrywide efforts to manage the Covid-19 pandemic. It is also intended to provide immediate support for the workers staying in the area and help them access better and quick healthcare in their neighbourhood. “This general field hospital can provide treatment for most of the emergencies and other ailments as well as outpatient services,” said Dr Khalid Abdulnoor Saifeldeen, lead for healthcare sector in lockdown area, told a visiting media delegation on Monday. The hospital has about 200 health care staff including doctors, nurses and paramedical staff. It has laboratories, X-ray facility as well as an ambulance station. Dr Saifeldeen noted that the facility will be operational for a relatively long period. “The capacity and accesses to care has changed with the Covid-19 situation and this area is under lockdown. So we have to provide with alternative access to healthcare. We have medication refill system, outpatient clinic, emergency and observation among others. We don’t provide critical care service or major trauma care. But such patients are very less in number and can go to other hospitals. Even very sick Covid-19 patients can go to hospitals dedicated for Covid-19 care, “explained Dr Saifeldeen. “This facility offers huge benefits to the population here. We don’t see patients from outside. We give something that the people in this area deserve. It will also complement the healthcare system in the country and ease the pressure on other facilities. So until this area is open, the facility will offer the services and will be here for relatively long term. This place gives an opportunity to provide care to people in this area in a better and unique way,” continued the official. Dr Rahma Salim, emergency medicine consultant at the hospital said that the hospital has a number of facilities. “The hospital has an emergency department, Covid-19 track to asses and do swabbing test for suspected people and a Covid-19 holding facility. It is mainly for male workers in the area, but any emergency cases of women and children will be attended to. The Covid-19 holding facility has about 80 beds which can accommodate Covid-19 suspected people for around 24 hours. Once a patient is tested, we expect the results to arrive in about eight hours. If the patient is tested negative he will be sent home and if he is tested positive, he will be transferred to the quarantine facility,” highlighted Dr Salim. “We have an adjoining Covid-19 quarantine facility which can accommodate 300-400 people for two to four weeks. Any Covid-19 positive cases will be transferred to the nearby quarantine facility,” added Dr Salim.

Some of the passengers of the repatriation flight on Saturday.
First repatriation flight carrying 178 Indians leaves for Kochi

* Second flight leaves for Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday * Hoping for 4-5 flights in next stage: envoy * More destinations in India to be covered A total of 178 Indians left Doha for Kochi, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Saturday evening aboard the first repatriation flight from Qatar. This is part of the Indian government's Vande Bharat mission to take Indians stranded around the world due to Covid-19 restrictions back home. Under this plan, two special flights are being operated from Qatar this week, with the second one scheduled to leave for Thiruvananthapuram today. Indian ambassador P Kumaran, officials from the embassy and several Indian community leaders were present at Hamad International Airport (HIA) on Saturday to see off the first batch of passengers. The 178 passengers were shortlisted from about 44,000 community members who had registered with the Indian embassy to avail of the facility. “It took several days of work to identify the most deserving passengers. The passengers on this flight are mostly pregnant women and people who need medical attention, among others. It needed several days of co-ordination between the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian embassy. The Indian ministries of Health, Home Affairs and Civil Aviation are also involved in the process,” ambassador Kumaran, who present at HIA on Saturday, told the media. The envoy also expressed gratitude to the Qatari government, the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority as well as the HIA authorities for the support provided to the entire process. “Once we figure out the logistics of the operation, we will be able to organise more flights at greater frequencies to several other places in India. This week, we have two flights to Kerala and hopefully we are planning to have more flights to more destinations in India from next week,” explained Kumaran, adding that they are hoping to have "4-5 flights" in the next stage of the repatriation mission from Qatar. “I think starting from May 15, we are looking forward to more flights to other parts of India. About 44,000 have registered with embassy for travelling to India. We decide the passengers on priority basis. There are many housemaids and most of them are from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Once we have flights to this region, they will be taken care of," he said. "There are about 200 deportation cases and 70 amnesty and pardon cases and all of them will be sent home on the available flights in the coming weeks,” he added. Of the 178 passengers who travelled on board flight IX 476 (operated by Air India Express), six were infants, the embassy tweeted. "Thanks to the Qatari Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Civil Aviation Authority, Hamad International Airport and the Air India team in Doha for all the support," it added. "We are asking for mote flights to other states in India in the coming days. Please follow us closely for updates." Indian Cultural Centre president Manikantan A P said the passengers have been given all the guidelines and safety instructions well in advance. “After several days of hectic efforts, we made arrangements for the first flight to take off from Doha. We have requested all the passengers to follow the guidelines and instructions strictly so that everybody reaches their destination safely. Once they reach Kochi International Airport, they have to follow the instructions given by the government and undergo mandatory quarantine,” he added. The embassy recently said it had resumed collection of data about people requesting repatriation to India due to the “continuing demand for registration”. Those seeking repatriation have to fill a form, which is available at “The form is to be filled for a single individual at a time,” the embassy stressed.

From Left: Maryam al-Jaidha, Fawzi Zghyer, Priyamvada Pillai, Mohamed Nasser al-Abdulla, Sara Mohamed
WCM-Q graduates share experiences; look to life after Covid-19

Several graduates from Weill Cornell Medicine in Qatar (WCM-Q) shared their experiences at the university, future plans and thoughts about life after Covid-19 as the university held the graduation of Class of 2020 Wednesday. Qatari graduate Maryam al-Jaidha who plans to do her masters in public health and specialise in dermatology, said that she cherished each moment of her time with her peers and faculty at WCM-Q. “Covid-19 has made me take the initiative to get my master’s degree in public health which will equip me with the necessary arsenal to make sure my beloved country is well prepared for any such situation," she said. “I am also filled with a sense of duty to serve, especially in these tough times that require healthcare practitioners to do everything to save the country. When we resolve this crisis, I believe that I will fill in a vital role as a physician and a public health specialist. My passion is to serve my country to the best of my ability. I look forward to join the frontline soon, and spend time and effort to support healthcare in Qatar,” she explained. Fawzi Zghyer, from Palestine, termed his life at WCM-Q as a ‘beautiful experience’. “I reached here from Palestine immediately after high school. This place prepared me for my life . Though there were several ups and downs, I was able to overcome them all beautifully” he pointed out. Zghyer will specialise in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland and is planning to join soon.“Graduating during a pandemic means that we are going to get our feet wet from day one. It also highlights that we are going into this profession when we are immensely needed. I am hopeful that we should see the light at the end of the tunnel. I take upon the moral obligation to serve the community wherever I am. I will always be at hand to help the people with all my knowledge,” he maintained. Priyamvada Pillai feels that WCM-Q has taught not only the art of medicine but also about the finest art of humanity. She said, “Education City became my second home and I will always cherish the memories. Qatar Foundation and WCM-Q provided us with the best quality of education and care.” “But never in a lifetime did I expect to graduate amidst a pandemic. Yes, it is slightly disappointing but it has only given me more strength to pursue this noble profession. This pandemic has taught us all a lot. It has given us insight on the true heroes around us. As the world grapples with Covid-19, I am eager to join hands with my fellow colleagues at the frontlines as I continue my journey in New York Presbyterian Hospital as an internal medicine resident,” she continued. Another Qatari graduate, Mohamed Nasser al-Abdulla feels that his time at WCM-Q has been exceptional. “Graduating in a time like this, in a pandemic that only happens rarely, poses its own challenges, but at the same time it provides us with opportunities to better prepare ourselves for the future. Huge advances in medicine are happening on a daily bases, and many of these changes will soon trickle down and benefit different sectors of our lives,” he described. “As a Qatari physician, my focus will be on the local aspect of health sector, and how I will be able to provide to my patients the best service and care that they deserve. I will continue to develop myself, as medicine progresses and in turn provide the most modern beneficial approach to the community,” he stated. According to Sara Mohamed, another graduate, WCM-Q helped her get a high level of education and fulfil her dream of becoming a physician. “My journey had a lot of challenges but it was overall a wonderful and fulfilling experience and rewarding moments, thanks to the support from my family and friends . I am going to join the residency programme at Virginia Commonwealth University in paediatrics,” she added.

Shortlisted passengers at the ICC office
Repatriation of stranded Indians to start from May 9

* First flight to Kochi rescheduled to Saturday *Embassy resumes collection of data The repatriation of Indian citizens stranded in Qatar due to the lockdown in India and flight restrictions prompted by the spread of Covid-19 has been rescheduled and will now begin on Saturday, May 9, instead of Thursday. Under the original plan, the first repatriation flight - from Doha to Kochi - was scheduled for Thursday. The Indian embassy in Qatar Wednesday clarified that "the flight that was scheduled for May 7 has been rescheduled to May 9 (Saturday)". No reason was, however, cited for this. According to an embassy official, Air India has opened a counter on the Indian Cultural Centre (ICC) premises in Abu Hamour so that shortlisted passengers for Kochi can buy their tickets. The fare for a ticket to Kochi is INR16,000 (around QR766). Air India is now scheduled to fly to Kochi on Saturday evening with about 200 passengers, it is learnt. ICC president Manikantan A P on Wednesday said most of the passengers for Kochi had already bought their tickets and efforts were on to help the remaining shortlisted persons get theirs on time. “In certain cases, some passengers need some certificates from the embassy. If they are not able to reach us before we close on Wednesday (5pm), we will try to help them on Thursday," he explained. Videos and images from ICC showed that social distancing norms were followed as people waited for their turn to pay for and collect their tickets. The official said that there will be health screening for all passengers before they board the flight. Another flight is expected to take a group of 200 passengers to Thiruvananthapuram on May 10. The details of its operation will be made available later. About 40,000 Indians have registered for repatriation on the Indian embassy website and those with the most urgent need for repatriation were shortlisted for the special flights that have been announced until now. On Wednesday, the embassy said it had resumed collection of data about people requesting repatriation to India due to the "continuing demand for registration". Those seeking repatriation have to fill a form, which is available at this link. "The form is to be filled for a single individual at a time," the embassy stressed. The embassy had earlier said it would take time to accommodate all the requests and complete the process. The shortlisted passengers will have to bear the cost of the air ticket. All the requirements for quarantine after reaching India as well as the medical requirements for travel from Doha will be conveyed to them and have to be accepted by every passenger. The Indian government has allocated 64 flights to make travel arrangements for Indians stranded around the world in the first week of the repatriation process, which begins Thursday at a number of places.

Dr Fasial Farooq
Qatar on track for digital health ecosystem: QCRI researcher

*'Digital health system is going to help us in managing any future pandemics' Qatar has taken several steps to develop a digital health ecosystem which holds the key for future of healthcare, especially in a pandemic situation such as Covid-19, noted a researcher at a webinar recently. “In Qatar, digital health is one of the key pillars that the health system is working on. It is in very early stages but it has been identified as one of the key drivers,” said Dr Faisal Farooq, principal scientist, Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI). Dr Farooq, who leads the digital health group within QCRI was speaking at a webinar organised by Qatar Centre for Artificial Intelligence (QCAI), part of QCRI on “Managing Health Services during a Pandemic’. In his presentation, he highlighted the advantages of digital health in managing the pandemics such as Covid-19 effectively. Dr Sanjay Chawla, research director, QCAI, moderated the session. “Digital health has been on the radar for some time but it has not been properly taken care of by the healthcare systems. Most healthcare systems had not been able to incorporate the digital health system seamlessly within the public health system. However, Covid-19 has shown us that digital health system is a real necessity within our healthcare systems. This is what is going to help us in managing any future pandemics and scenarios like this,” he explained. The scientist detailed that a pandemic situation such as Covid-19 demands four steps. “A crisis management for a Covid-19 like pandemic needs four steps. They are preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation. Preparedness is what is needed before a pandemic hits and the response is a reactive situation that deals with the situation as it happens. Recovery is the process of returning to new normal while migration is the forward looking strategy,” he described According to Dr Farooq, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Data Science technologies can be the key elements in implementing these steps. “Using AI and Data Science different models can be developed to face any pandemic situation and overcome them successfully. However, these are not the alternative for preparedness. Unfortunately, many governments were not prepared to face a situation such as Covid-19,” he noted. “Qatar is making use of some of these techniques in dealing with the current situation. Accordingly, the country is adopting certain policies in fighting the epidemic. This is clear from the statistics as Qatar’s mortality rate is one of the lowest in the world while the people in critical situation or admitted in the intensive care are also very low. This helps the country to adopt a capacity based treatment approach,” he continued. He also maintained that the current Covid-19 situation has resulted in a great increase in telemedicine consultations all over the world. “There is a 40% increase in the in telemedicine consultations during this period. This has reduced visits to the hospitals and helped in containing the pandemic to a certain extent. It also has helped in continuing the non-Covid healthcare for the community,” added the official.

Indian Embassy, Doha
'Stranded' Indians in Qatar to be flown home from May 7

The Indian embassy has initiated steps to facilitate the repatriation of stranded Indians from Qatar after the Indian government has decided to operate special flights to bring home nationals who are held up in foreign countries because of the ongoing Covid-19 situation and the suspension of air travel. In the first phase of the plan, two special flights will be used to fly Indian nationals home, the first one on May 7 to Kochi and the second one to Thiruvanathapuram on May 10. An Indian embassy statement said: “The passenger list for both the flights will be decided based on the registration on the Indian embassy website, specifically meant for this purpose. Priority will be given to urgent medical cases, pregnant women, people in distress, senior citizens and those who are stranded in difficult situations." The embassy will contact the selected passengers from the list through their telephone or email. The embassy disclosed that about 40,000 people have registered on its website for repatriation and it will take time to accommodate all the requests and complete the process. The embassy has also stated that those passengers who are shortlisted to travel will have to bear the cost of the air ticket. All the requirements for quarantine after reaching India as well as the medical requirements for travel from Doha will be conveyed to them and have to be accepted by each passenger. “We are waiting for further instructions from the government of India for flights to other states. We will inform the details as and when we receive such information. We request everyone to be patient and cooperate in such a massive effort,” an Indian embassy official said. Further details can be had from the embassy's Covid-19 helpline, 55667569 or 55647502. People can also email at covid19dohahelpline@ India government has allocated 64 flight services to make travel arrangements for Indians stranded around the world in the first week of its operations starting from May 7. On day one it is expected that about 2300 Indians will be facilitated to fly back from various countries. On day two and three, the number of passengers are expected to be 2050, day four, 1850, day five 2200, day six, 2500 and day seven, 1850. The total number of people expected to travel by the end of week one is 14,800.