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Tue 3 Mar 2020 11:00 AM

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Arabian Business Podcast: Disease outbreaks are 'inevitable', made worse by interconnected world

In the first episode of the Arabian Business Podcast, a Dubai-based clinical microbiologist and infection specialist explains the role of heath inequality in the spread of the coronavirus

Arabian Business Podcast: Disease outbreaks are 'inevitable', made worse by interconnected world

Dr Elamin said that human immune systems take a very long time to evolve, meaning that people are likely to fall ill when exposed to newly transmitted diseases.

Outbreaks of illnesses such as the novel coronavirus are “inevitable”, with a particular challenge posed by travel between countries with varying levels of preparedness, according to Dr Wael Faroug Mohamed Elamin, a consultant clinical microbiologist and infection specialist at King’s College Hospital in Dubai.

In an interview on the first episode of the Arabian Business Podcast, Dr Elamin said that outbreaks of infectious diseases have always been a part of human history – and will continue to occur in the future.

“Even if you go to Biblical texts, you find that the plague has been mentioned extensively. If you look at [ancient] Egyptian records, you find writing about groups of people dying with what is probably an infection,” he explained. “We forget we’ve been on this planet for hundreds of millions of years in our current shape and form. Viruses and bacteria have been there longer than we have.

“They [viruses] have not changed the way they live like we have. We’ve changed the way we build, our communal living. We’ll be exposed to new risks. We’ve attenuated a lot of it with the introduction of antibiotics, of ‘clean living’ in terms of sanitation…that has reduced the level of exposure that we have to these parasites and bugs.”

However, Dr Elamin said that human immune systems take a very long time to evolve, meaning that people are likely to fall ill when exposed to newly transmitted diseases.

“We may have less attacks,” he said. “But we will have them, and it’s inevitable for the foreseeable future.”

Modern risks

Additionally, Dr Elamin said that there is a significant challenge posed by the constant flow of people between countries, some of which are ill-equipped and poorly prepared to diagnose and deal with coronavirus patients.

“The World Health Organisation works hard to coordinate. But the world is more interconnected, however unfairly so. If I were to fall ill in a country like Sudan or Chad, what’s the probably of me being diagnosed? I’d say it’s a lot less than if I were in a more developed country,” he said.

“We have to look at the bigger picture. Equality is very important. What happens in Botswana can affect you directly. Two or three weeks ago, a lot of us didn’t know where Wuhan sits on a map,” the doctor added.

Looking towards the future, Dr Elamin said that the world should already be preparing for future outbreaks of diseases.

“This is not the last outbreak we’re going to see,” he said. “Trying to predict what’s next is not easy, so the question is how we work all together and understand that we can’t work in insular societies.”

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