Case study: The 3 ways SEHA responded to a pandemic | Healthcare Asia Magazine
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Case study: The 3 ways SEHA responded to a pandemic

The second of four parts explore the three case studies on UAE's pandemic response.

The Oxford Business Group released its United Arab Emirates (UAE) COVID-19 Response Report on 7 February. It focused on four areas, namely Resilience, Response, Recovery, and Reinvention.

Case study: How SEHA strengthened national testing capacity and heightened awareness

Before the pandemic reached the UAE, public hospital operator SEHA was already taking the lead in closely monitoring and evaluating global health challenges, and ensuring that the country and Abu Dhabi were prepared to handle a sudden crisis that might originate overseas. Once the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the country, SEHA was able to quickly scale up its resources for mass testing in close collaboration with other national agencies and partners. The organisation’s strategy was focused on making testing as safe and accessible as possible by providing citizens and residents with a diverse array of convenient locations. In addition, SEHA was heavily involved in spreading public health advice.

Here are the steps SEHA undertook in order to have effective screening and information processes:

  • Free testing for all Emirati citizens, pregnant women, people aged 50 above, and people of determination (with special needs and disabilities)
  • Establishment of new screening centres that conducted tests and awareness programmes for everyone
  • Home screenings to ensure vulnerable members of the community have easy access to COVID-19 testing with minimal risk
  • Screening of over 20,000 mall and shop employees in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development
  • Testing of students, teachers and bus employees in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge
  • Launching of a WhatsApp helpline to address queries, and provide quick and accurate information on COVID-19
  • Handing out more than 1000 care packages to individuals in the Emirates Humanitarian City in partnership with the Emirates Red Crescent

As of October 2021, SEHA has established and managed 24 drive-through screening facilities across the nation, with 6.4 million tests completed and monitored. Additionally, 13.6 million tests were completed by SEHA out of the over 72 million conducted in the country. Consequently, the lab testing capacity increased from 3,000 tests in 2019 to 7,000 tests in 2021.

Case study: How SEHA helped expand healthcare facilities and staff capacity

As part of an integrated plan to manage the impact of COVID-19 and ensure the health system was not overwhelmed by patients, SEHA built three purpose-built field hospitals in the Northern Emirates, Abu Dhabi Exhibition Centre, Emirates Humanitarian City, and Dubai Parks and Resorts; five prime assessment centres; two designated facilities for care and quarantine of positive cases at the Al Rahba Hospital and Al Ain Hospital; and three dedicated vaccination facilities with the capacity to administer the Sinopharm vaccine to up to 3,000 people each day. In total, 3,400 beds were added to the UAE's healthcare infrastructure.

With the addition of facilities, SEHA made efforts to boost staff capacity. During the pandemic, 2,477 nurses were trained to care for COVID-19 patients in the ICU, dedicated wards, and nephrology departments at hospitals. SEHA also held 21,600 training and educational courses on managing COVID-19 to over 18,000 staff, as well as 1,487 towards administrative teams. Aside from these, SEHA recruited volunteers from the community and medical professionals from other healthcare entities to provide support at its centres. Lastly, in collaboration with the UAE University, SEHA started the COVID-19 Accelerator Programme, which included five teams of SEHA specialists and researchers to elevate the health sector's capabilities.

Case study: How SEHA made the health and well-being of staff a top priority during the pandemic

The pandemic presented unique challenges for health care professionals, who suddenly found themselves on the front line of efforts to combat a new and deadly virus. In a bid to protect its staff, SEHA implemented precautionary measures and safety procedures across its facilities, while introducing new initiatives to reduce outpatient visits. Through local and international partnerships, SEHA was able to maintain a reliable supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-related medical tools to ensure the safety of its staff as well as the efficient care of patients. In addition, the health care company provided its staff with mental health support to help them cope with the pressures of the pandemic.

The precautionary measures to ensure staff safety are below:

  • Setting up glass barriers between staff and patients at registration desks and redesigning waiting rooms
  • Launching a medication home delivery service for patients to easily access prescriptions while reducing hospital visits for staff safety
  • Controlling entry of patients into clinics and temperature checks for all staff before accessing any SEHA facility
  • Round-the-clock cleaning and sanitisation of all communal areas and shared surfaces within SEHA facilities
  • Establishing new pathways to triage patients with flu-like or respiratory illness symptoms in emergency and outpatient facilities
  • Launching a child vaccination drive-through service in 10 locations to minimise outpatient visitation

The most important action SEHA made was to provide staff with personal protective equipment (PPE), such as surgical masks, safety goggles, gowns, face shields, and other equipment. The PPE were regularly examined to ensure they meet international standards. SEHA also collaborated internationally with China to source and store PPE, as well as partner with Etihad Airways to ensure the timely delivery of PPE through airlifts.

Because of SEHA's efforts, the UAE became a global leader in COVID-19 testing and facilities in the OECD. The UAE also became the fifth country in the world to introduce drive-through testing facilities, ranked third for PCR tests conducted per capita, third in a global survey of citizens’ satisfaction with their governments’ response, and first ranked in the world with regard to Abu Dhabi's response to the pandemic, according to UK analytics firm DKG.

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