Middle East: Comparing pandemic notes

Reem Leila , Thursday 15 Oct 2020

A Covid-19 webinar highlights the urgent need to adopt personalised healthcare solutions in the Middle East

Comparing pandemic notes
Comparing pandemic notes

Participants in Building Resilient Health Systems in the Middle East, a webinar organised by Roche, the Swiss-based global pharmaceuticals and diagnostics company, focused on the challenges to building sustainable healthcare systems posed by the Covid-19 pandemic; the steps that need to be taken to ensure data-driven solutions can bridge gaps in existing healthcare systems; the infrastructure needed to allow greater regional take-up of digital and personalised care solutions and the impact of digital solutions on medical research.  

The webinar participants agreed that addressing Covid-19 required collaborative efforts and ongoing discussions between government and all components of the healthcare ecosystem — including, but not limited to, private institutions, healthcare workers and medical researchers.

“The Covid-19 outbreak sheds light on the power of data and digital tools to advance health and wellbeing,” said Ahmed Nouh, director of the Digital Healthcare Business Unit at Vodafone Egypt and a healthcare expert.

“In order to future-proof the ecology of healthcare we must optimise data collection, share analytics and enable the early adoption of innovative digital technologies. This is a prerequisite to responding to any health emergency and delivering personalised healthcare.”

Nouh told Al-Ahram Weekly that digitalisation allowed greater scope for evidence-based decisions and the more than two million families currently registered with the Ministry of Health and Population’s latest application helped facilitate the building of better predictive models.

“The government’s successful approach in dealing with the pandemic is reflected in the number of deaths per million. Digitisation also created personalised communicated channels to citizens/patients based on their health records; this is also the other direction of communication which started by data collection, analysing and then communicating,” said Nouh.

A paper submitted in April by Mireia Crispin, director of the Future of Healthcare programme at Spain’s IE university, noted that the global nature of the current health crisis had provided fertile ground for the rapid development of digital and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

“When, early on in the pandemic, chest CT scans were found to reveal the extent of lung damage, efforts were established around the world to facilitate data sharing, model training and scan assessment. For example, the Tianhe-1 supercomputer in China was made accessible to anyone in the world in order to provide quick Covid-19 diagnoses based on chest scans,” said the study.

Inaya Ezzeddin, Lebanese MP and founding director of the Medical Analysis and Pathology Laboratory, also underlined the need for future-proofing of healthcare systems.

“While it’s important to successfully manage pressing needs during the pandemic, efforts must also be made to pro-actively establish the infrastructure for a robust, resilient healthcare system, one that ensures future cost-effective and sustainable healthcare for the benefit of all,” she said.

Highlighting the impact of digital solutions on medical research Rashid Al-Hammadi, manager of the Medical Research Department of the UAE Ministry of Health, said: “In the era of big data, AI and new technologies allow for the cutting-edge application of information science in redefining diagnostics, medicine, therapeutics, and clinical research.”

Al-Hammadi stressed how telehealth is being used to overcome the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and make up for shortfalls in traditional healthcare delivery.

Steve Lutes, the vice president of Middle East Affairs at US Chamber of Commerce, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that we must have a collaborative and interconnected approach bringing together governments and the private sector. The global economic system, built on sectors related to health, technology, investment, trade and finance, is one that crosses borders and works best when we cooperate with one another. By having a comprehensive strategy, investing in health systems, and embracing innovation and new technologies, we can ensure that we can emerge stronger on the other side.”

On Sunday the number of Covid-19 cases in Egypt reached 104,156. Iraq has the highest rate of infections in the region with 400,000 cases.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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