COVID-19 crisis puts regional health-care occupations in the limelight

An Emirati doctor looks on as nursing staff prepare beds in a huge field hospital being built by the government of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, on April 14, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 12 July 2020

COVID-19 crisis puts regional health-care occupations in the limelight

  • Health care takes center stage as COVID-19 pandemic underscores importance of the sector
  • Middle East wakes up to the indispensability of doctors, nurses and other health professionals

DUBAI: With the coronavirus pandemic showing no sign of ebbing in the absence of a proven vaccine, the importance of medicine and related sciences to humankind’s continued existence and well-being has been underscored in dramatic fashion.

As the crisis pummels economies and upends the lives of millions of people by taking away their jobs, restricting their lifestyles and compromising their safety, the world is waking up to the indispensability of doctors, nurses, medical assistants and other health professionals.

For a fairly long period of time, the appeal of these professions had suffered as careers in finance, technology and management exerted a powerful grip on the popular imagination, including in the Arab world. Not anymore.

The pandemic has made unprecedented demands on health-care systems around the world and proved that some sectors of the economic system, namely health care, are essential in every sense of the word.

The increased requirements are not just for surviving the current health crisis, say economists and career counsellors, but also to prepare for a more secure future for humanity.

A strong indication of this realization was found in the mass tributes paid to doctors and other health-care providers during the early stages of lockdowns. From Rome to Dubai, people cheered and clapped from their balconies to express their gratitude and admiration.

Many front-line medical personnel in the Arab region have lost their lives in the line of duty. And more will probably contract the infection if a COVID-19 cure continues to elude researchers around the world.




A health worker prepares to perform nose swab tests during a drive through coronavirus test campaign held in Diriyah hospital in the Saudi capital Riyadh on May 7, 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP)

Referring to the global outpouring of appreciation for the medical fraternity, Hussein Shobokshi, Saudi businessman and commentator, said he was taken by surprise.

“For a while now, the field of medicine has not been in vogue. The glamor had moved to people on Wall Street, in accounting, finance, to bankers, lawyers and, to some degree, to engineers as well,” he told Arab News.

“Medicine was perceived as a tedious, expensive and taxing profession that stole your social life and made you pay a heavy price for it.”

Many people were not ready “to sacrifice all that for a tiny amount of returns. People didn’t look at it from a moral point of view,” he said. “They were looking at it from a financial perspective.”

 

In the future, Shobokshi believes, there will be a “revolution in terms of the demand for jobs in the medical field across the world” — the demand will be “massive.”

“The medical field is going to expand, and its definition, from a traditional, classical concept, is going to be reinvented, restructured and re-engineered,” he said.

Priya Babel, a career and education consultant, agrees, saying that the coronavirus crisis has brought about a new understanding both of the many job roles in medicine and health, and their importance in keeping society healthy.

THENUMBERS

Ratio of physicians to every 1,000 patients in the population

- 2.6 in Saudi Arabia (2018)

- 0.5 in Egypt (2018)

- 2.3 in Jordan (2017)

(Source: World Bank)

People were reluctant to take up certain medical professions because they believed that “they were secondary to (the role of) a doctor, and not equally important,” but the pandemic has forced them to question their assumptions, said Babel, director of Dubai-based Uni Crest, an education and admissions consultancy.

“I feel that the shift in (careers in) medicine will be from treating the disease to a lifestyle-based approach. I am not saying there won’t be a demand for doctors, but there is also a great demand for physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and dietitians,” she told Arab News.

“A chest physiotherapist, for example, can teach people breathing techniques while they are being treated for COVID-19. When I say occupational therapists, I am also saying microbiologists because there is a lot of focus on treating the person, not just the disease. There are all these parallel science majors which have become as important, and I think people respect those equally.”

 

Biochemists, biologists and viral specialists will also be in demand, Babel said.

However, even if these professions find a place in the sun in the post-pandemic era, they have little chance of lessening doctors’ indispensability.

In the pre-pandemic era, the ratio of doctors to the population in the Arab region varied remarkably. According to World Bank data, the ratio of physicians to every 1,000 patients in the population was 2.6 in Saudi Arabia (2018), 0.5 in Egypt (2018), 2.5 in the UAE (2018), 2.3 in Jordan (2017) and 0.7 in Iraq (2018).

The challenges faced by health-care systems in the Arab world during the pandemic are mostly to do with the medical infrastructure’s capacity, measures to contain the spread of the infection and the timing of those measures.

A sharp imbalance between need and capacity developed as a result of a sudden increase in patient numbers, shortage of medical doctors and the lack of “the right equipment to treat patients,” said Babel.




Nurses and doctors pose at the temporary COVID-19 hospital built in downtown Dubai in the United Arabic Emirates after it was deactivated, on July 7, 2020. (AFP)

On an individual level, the pandemic has reinforced the importance of self-development in individuals, say experts. The extended lockdown has prompted many people to review their career choices, looking at what they need to do to support themselves in a future that will be very different from what they thought.

According to the experts, the increasing appeal in recent months of online courses in life-coaching, nutrition, meditation and well-being, to name a few, points to a shift in people’s thinking triggered by the pandemic.

The need to stay relevant in a post-COVID-19 job market is as popular a theme these days as is self-preservation through better management of stress and higher immunity levels.

“We will see more marriages between technology and medicine to ensure access to knowledge through apps, websites and webinars, simplifying the messages for the masses,” said Shobokshi.

 

In his view, the fight with COVID-19 has taught every nation that medicine is the new defense industry.

“For a long time, the Middle East in general — and I don’t discount any country in this statement — has been pouring money into arms and defense-related industries as a priority to secure their borders and skies, which were essential requirements,” said Shobokshi.

“However, the concept of the medical field as a defense mechanism, as we have seen in the COVID-19 experience, will lead to further investments in this sector.”  

Apart from channeling more investment into hospitals and medical centers, governments in the Arab world can “encourage recruitment of national and international talent to help fill the gaps,” he said.

Only time will tell if any of these post-COVID-19 scenarios will come to pass. What is certain, however, is that life after the pandemic will be different from before.

Even if a vaccine becomes available to combat COVID-19 in the coming months, the future is likely to be characterized by adaptability, fresh thinking and a renewed respect for the role of health-care professionals in keeping societies safe.

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@jumanaaltamimi


Data leak reveals true scale of Iran’s COVID-19 crisis

Updated 2 min 51 sec ago

Data leak reveals true scale of Iran’s COVID-19 crisis

  • Iranian outbreak, already the worst in the Middle East, is far more serious than initially reported.
  • Tehran’s cover up of the true virus toll is consistent with their reaction to previous embarrassing incidents.

LONDON: A data leak from within Iran has revealed that the number of deaths caused by COVID-19 is nearly three times higher than the figures reported by the government.

The data, which was passed to the BBC Persian service, shows almost 42,000 people died with COVID-19 symptoms up to July 20, nearly triple the 14,405 reported by its health ministry.

The number of infections is also far higher than that admitted by the government: 451,024 as opposed to the 278,827 disclosed by Tehran.

Undercounting cases is common across the world due to limited testing capacity, but the BBC’s information reveals that Iranian authorities reported significantly lower daily numbers, despite having a record of all deaths — suggesting the figures were deliberately suppressed.

The data leak also shows that the first recorded case of the virus in Iran was on Jan. 22 — a month before the government acknowledged any cases.

Already the center of the Middle East’s virus outbreak, Tehran’s cover-up of early cases and its failure to swiftly act on the outbreak likely accelerated the spread of the virus across the region.

The BBC received the data from an anonymous source, who told them they shared the data to “shed light on the truth” and to end “political games” over the epidemic.

The data supplied includes details of daily admissions to hospitals across Iran, including names, age, gender, symptoms, date and length of periods spent in hospital, and underlying conditions patients might have.

The overall trend of cases and deaths in the leaked data is similar to official reports, but different in size.

Dr Nouroldin Pirmoazzen, a former Iranian MP who was an official at the health ministry and is now living in the US, told the BBC that the government was “anxious and fearful of the truth” when COVID-19 hit Iran.

He said: “The government was afraid that the poor and the unemployed would take to the streets.”

The Iranian health ministry maintains that the country’s reports to the World Health Organization on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths are “transparent” and “far from any deviations.”

The cover-up of the true scale of their COVID-19 crisis is not unusual behaviour from the regime. A number of incidents have brought a similar response in 2020 alone.

In January, Iran shot down a Ukrainian jet near Tehran, killing all passengers on board. The regime hid its actions for three days, only acknowledging wrongdoing as public pressure mounted through protests.

Then Iranian nuclear and military facilities were the target of a series of sabotages, explosions, and cyberattacks, but Tehran has attempted to conceal what happened at virtually every step of the way.