Coronavirus heroes: meet Dubai’s volunteer doctors

The medical team at the Warsan isolation facility works around the clock to care for people infected with Covid-19

One doctor in Dubai leaves his mother, a cancer patient, at home to treat Covid-19 patients.
Another medic was a tourist in the emirate who was unable to return home because flights were suspended. She now helps others care for those infected with coronavirus. Despite personal struggles, these medical professionals chose to join the front lines to help combat the virus in the UAE and care for people suffering with Covid-19.

They volunteer at an isolation facility in Warsan, which can accommodate up to 10,000 patients.
Staff there work in shifts to treat patients, with some doctors living on-site to protect their families at home from the risk of infection.

The facility, which is run by the Dubai Health Authority, consists of 26 buildings, half of which are occupied.

Sponsorship and support from organisations such as the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre, Pakistan Association Dubai, members of the Indian community and business groups have helped bring medical volunteers on board.

Dr Sadaf Jalil Ahmed, 48, is from Pakistan and has called the UAE home for the past 45 years. She said she was determined to help during such difficult times.

She worked for a private clinic but took a break to join the staff at the Warsan centre, where she has treated patients for the past six weeks.

“For me, there is absolutely no question about volunteering,” she said.

“I do come home to an immunosuppressed person, but one has to take all of the precautions to be safe and, yet, you have to work towards giving back.

“We have all taken an oath to save lives and make sure no harm comes to anyone and we are all putting that oath to the ultimate test.

“At times, we are putting our personal safety on the line to do this. We take all the necessary precautions, but it’s never 100 per cent guaranteed.”

Dr Rameez Nazeer, 29, is a general practitioner from India who has volunteered at the centre since it opened its doors at the end of March.

His mother, who is undergoing chemotherapy, and father live in Abu Dhabi. Dr Nazeer stays in accommodation at the Warsan facility.

“I live here because I prefer not to risk my family at home,” he told The National.

“I plan to live here until this is over and until we can close this facility.” He said his mother was the “strongest woman” he knew and was able to take care of herself. His father, 62, still works and can also look after himself.

Dr Rameez Nazeer has been a volunteer since the facility opened in March. Dr Nazeer is a graduate of Wuhan University and lived in the Chinese city, where the outbreak was first reported in December, for six years. He moved to the UAE a year ago. He said he believed it was his duty to volunteer at Warsan. “I owe it to myself, the people of Wuhan and this country to help,” he said. “A part of my character and growth was from Wuhan. I learnt a lot from there, including the Chinese language. “It has helped a lot in most of the situations, when and if, we have any Chinese patients coming here.”

“We tend to be emotional in some situations, or when things get out of hand, personally and professionally. “But at the end of the day we sit down, we gather our thoughts and we see to it that we are here for our patients. They are facing a much more difficult time than us.”

Dr Carmelo Crisafulli, 37, said he was committed to volunteering during the outbreak as doctors had to “remain true” to their oath to save lives.

His parents, who are in their 70s, his siblings, nieces and nephews all live in Italy.

It is one of countries worst affected by the pandemic, with officials reporting more than 209,000 Covid-19 cases, more than 28,000 deaths and about 80,000 recoveries as of May 2.

“I am online with my family in Italy every day and we can say that the situation in the UAE is much brighter,” Dr Crisafulli said. “We do not have many critical patients or too many deaths here. In Italy, it is very different.” Dr Crisafulli said patients are treated like guests.

He said he worked from six to eight hours almost every day, but now that his clinic has reopened he has taken a role to help manage the isolation facility and remains on call. Dr Crisafulli lives alone in a flat in Dubai Marina and said he felt comfortable going home as he was not putting anyone at risk. He said staff at the facility treated patients as guests to help them cope psychologically. “Some of them were pushed into a new reality suddenly, without knowing anything,” he said. “We admitted patients coming straight away from their workplace and for them they have faced a tough impact.

“We do discuss with them that it is for their safety, as well as other people’s safety.
“The psychological impact is tough for them and for us. This is because it can be frustrating as we cannot do much to solve the problem. “We do not have the weapons, but we can definitely help.”

Dr Hala Hussein was meant to return to Lebanon but had to remain in the UAE after flights were suspended.

When she learnt there were opportunities for medics to volunteer, she decided to help.

Dr Hussein, who works eight-hour shifts at the Warsan facility, rents a flat in Silicon Oasis, which is close by to the isolation facility.

Dr Hala Hussein was on a trip to Dubai when the outbreak hit and stayed on to help. “My parents were anxious, but the UAE government ensures you are kept under great conditions,” she said. “This country has given me a lot and I wanted to contribute.”

    Pakistan Association Dubai. , Street 11b, Oud Metha Road,
    Bur Dubai ,
    United Arab Emirates
    04 2305000
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