DUBAI: Dr. Shamrez Akram describes his duty at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) quarantine facility in Dubai as “immensely stressful,” though it has not stopped him from being on the front line of the ongoing war against the debilitating respiratory illness.
An internal medicine specialist, Akram works at a private hospital but is currently volunteering at the Warsan Hospitality and Healthcare Center on the outskirts of Dubai, an all-male, 26-building welfare and medical facility set up exclusively for the city’s working class.
At present, these buildings are used as isolation centers to house over 500 patients diagnosed with the disease.
“This virus is all around us,” Akram told Arab News. “It can be waiting for you on a table or in any other insignificant corner. Hospital workers are at risk, but this doesn’t mean that we will back off. We are committed to our duty.”
Akram, who is originally from Kharian, a small town in Pakistan’s Gujrat district in the Punjab province, and who has lived in Dubai for the past 10 years, was twice exposed to a colleague suffering from COVID-19 last month.
“Luckily, I didn’t show any symptoms, but I had to follow the protocol and isolate myself at home for seven days each time until two test swabs came out negative,” he said.
The brush with death scared Akram and his family, but he still went back to work.
“There are stories out there that are scarier than mine,” he said.
He is not alone. Doctors belonging to the medical wing of the Pakistan Association in Dubai (PAD) remain true to their professional pledge and are putting their lives at risk while treating COVID-19 patients.
Over the past months, the burden on health care professionals has increased as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has risen in the UAE. However, the government has ensured that health care workers are well taken care of and do not run out of personal protective equipment.
While there are no official figures available, the number of infected doctors in the UAE is said to be low for the same reason.
“I believe volunteering is in my genes,” Akram said. “Besides, if doctors are not going to take risks during this crisis, who will?”
Dr. Nighat Aftab, president of PAD’s medical wing and a gynecologist, said that at least 30 Pakistani doctors were working in different capacities, taking care of COVID-19 patients under the umbrella of the Dubai Health Authority.
“We volunteered since the beginning of the pandemic on March 28, when the government started housing mild cases in Warsan,” she said.
“We visit Warsan twice a week and take swabs and tests as required,” she added. “I have operated on women suffering from COVID-19 who miraculously gave birth to perfectly healthy children.”
When asked if she worried for her life, Aftab said, “If we have chosen this profession, then we have to be prepared for all eventualities. Sometimes we don’t even count the number of hours while working since they don’t matter anymore.”
However, she said it was a priority for her to keep her family safe. Once home, she carefully handles shoes that are used outside, washes up and makes liberal use of disinfectants.
For Dr. Zafar Iqbal Gondal, a laparoscopic surgeon from Pakistan who works with a government hospital in Dubai, being in the medical profession means serving humanity.
“We are professionals and we are working on the front lines not for ourselves but for the lives of others,” he said.
Gondal, who is also a founding member of PAD’s medical wing, has performed high-risk surgeries on COVID-19 patients.
“I’m afraid at times since it entails great risk and I see deaths in front of me, but it’s our duty and responsibility,” he said.
Like many others, Gondal wraps up in personal protective equipment to diligently perform his duties.
“The routine has changed, everything has changed,” he said. “Nothing will be the same again.”
According to the latest figures, the UAE has over 12,480 confirmed COVID-19 cases and has reported more than 2,400 recoveries. The country has already conducted over a million tests on its population of 10 million. However, experts say that cases in the UAE have yet to peak.