Prevention is key to containing MERS
On Facebook, Filipino workers based in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle East countries have started posting messages about the dreaded Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus, a sure sign that the disease is causing jitters among the expatriate workforce in the region.
Is there a cure? How does one get it? What are the symptoms? These are some of the basic questions asked in social media threads and the lack of authoritative answers raises a reader’s anxiety levels even more.
The best preventive tool would be a government health hot line that can dispense basic information about MERS in a variety of languages. All diplomatic posts should also receive a proper briefing with basic instructions that they can give out to their nationals in their respective languages.
Here in the Philippines, it was reported that a male nurse from the UAE tested positive for MERS virus, and health authorities in Dubai immediately informed the Philippine side about such findings. Later, the nurse tested negative for the virus thus leading the country to heave a collective sigh of relief.
But the erroneous news raised a couple of serious questions — if the male nurse indeed tested positive while in UAE, how come he was allowed to leave the airport? It also raised questions about the virus itself — can one manifest symptoms of the virus and test positive for it and then lose it a day or two later? Indeed, this respiratory ailment is still the subject of professional medical scrutiny and hopefully, the world would be getting more specific answers soon.
In Saudi Arabia, MERS coronavirus has so far claimed 75 lives out of 244 infected individuals. This incidence is fairly low and most of the transmissions appear to involve patient-to-medic encounters, hence the desire of Saudi health authorities not to cause undue panic over it. Access to information through authoritative channels may yet be the best tool to deal with the growing public interest into the prevalence of the disease.
“It is important that families, friends and members of their local communities fully understand all that must be known about the MERS coronavirus,” Philippine Health Secretary Enrique Ona told a news conference. The concern of the Philippine government is quite understandable — the Middle East is home to more than a million Filipino overseas workers. The Philippine government has to make sure that workers about to leave for the Middle East are informed about health risks including, but not limited to, MERS-CoV.
By arming our own workers with such information, they’d be able to promote better hygiene among their peers. Like all respiratory ailments, basic prevention measures include constant washing of hands, covering one’s mouth with a tissue when sneezing and immediately throwing that tissue away and avoiding close contact with sick people.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) has not declared MERS-CoV as an epidemic, it is vital that all countries cooperate in preventing its spread. Information is key especially among expat workers in the Middle East, some of whom may be too timid or frightened to approach medical authorities for help.
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