Posted on March 16, 2016

Qatar University Biomedical Research Center (QU-BRC) on Tuesday (March 15) held a seminar on ‘Zika Virus and Public Health Response in Qatar’. It was organized in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health.

Moderated by Dr. Hadi Yassine, Assistant Professor of Infectious Diseases at QU-BRC, the seminar was an opportunity to raise awareness about the Zika virus phenomenon and its implication on global health, while focusing on Qatar’s response strategies regarding the health issue.

It featured presentations by Dr. Mohammed Al-Hajri (pictured), Director of Emergency Preparedness and Response Department, Ministry of Public Health; Dr. Shazia Nadim, Acting Head of Surveillance and Outbreak, Public Health Department, Ministry of Public Health; Dr. Elmoubasher Farag, Acting Head of Communicable Diseases Control Programs, Public Health Department, Ministry of Public Health; Dr. Mohamed Noor from the Ministry of Public Health; and Dr. Hassan Altigani, Test Confirm Specialist, Ministry of Municipalities and Environment.

While presenting on ‘The current situation of zika virus and the national response framework’, Dr. Al-Hajri said that the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) over the mosquito-borne zika virus disease which could be transmitted during pregnancy to unborn babies. According to him, since there is no specific vaccine or treatment yet for the disease, the best form of prevention is protection against mosquitoes especially through the use of insect repellants.

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Speaking on ‘Human Surveillance for Zika Infections’, Dr. Nadim, alerted that about one out of five people develop symptoms associated with the zika virus disease, emphasizing as well that since there is yet no vaccine to prevent it, people in endemic areas also need to wear long sleeve shirts and long pants. She said that although the disease has not yet been reported in Qatar, a surveillance case alert has been developed and distributed to all hospitals and health facilities in the country. In addition, all Qatar Airways flights from affected countries are disinfected while screening of blood donors for recent travel history to affected countries has been instituted, Dr. Nadim added.

While advising people to also make use the zika mobile apps developed by WHO to update their knowledge about the disease and access available information, she said that Qatar has set up two 24/7 hotlines for people to reach the relevant agencies anytime. The numbers are 66740948 and 66740951. The issue of ‘Vector Surveillance and Control’ was treated by Dr. Farag and Dr. Altigani. Dr. Farag said the aedes mosquito, which causes the zika virus disease is adaptable to human habitation and that the eggs can remain dry for up to 400 days.

He said that steps were being taken to develop a National Strategy for Surveillance Control of Disease Vectors of Public Health Concern in Qatar. Dr. Altigani outlined preventive and control measures against mosquitoes in Qatar and urged people to use mosquito nets, tightly knit mesh and insect repellants as well. The seminar attracted participants from the Ministry of Public Health, Hamad Medical Corporation, Sidra Medical and Research Center and Qatar University colleges and research centers.