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Mohamed Hawas Al Sadid, director of projects at UAE's Frontline Heroes Office, speaks during the celebration of the efforts of unsung heroes at Terra the Auditorium, in Expo 2020 Dubai. Image Credit: Courtesy: Christopher Edralin/Expo 2020 Dubai

Dubai: From a doctor helping to eradicate polio, to a nurse rescuing newborn babies after the 2020 Beirut explosion, Expo 2020 Dubai’s Health & Wellness Week, which began on Thursday, showcased first-hand accounts from some of the world’s unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Expo 2020 Dubai-led hybrid event at Terra, The Sustainability Pavilion, celebrated everyday acts and ‘unsung’ heroic gestures by health and sanitation workers, teachers, parents, artists and more that have kept the world moving forward. The event did not only put a spotlight on these inspiring stories, but also expressed its gratitude to the everyday heroes to inspire more generosity.

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Dr Kawther Salem Al Ameri, manager of Mafraq COVID-19 Prime Assessment Centre, speaks during the programme to honour everyday acts of ‘unsung’ heroes. Image Credit: Supplied

Health & Wellness Week, which will run until February 2 at Expo 2020 Dubai, in association with the Mohammed bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences and World Health Organisation (WHO), is exploring the relationship between mental and physical wellness, alongside the role of quality access to health care and technology in reaching the last mile and building healthy societies.

The spectacular Al Wasl Plaza at Expo 2020 Dubai was lit up in blue as a special ‘thank you’ to frontline workers. Faces of health care and essential workers were displayed across the dome in a salute to those who put their own lives on the frontline every day to save the lives of others.

Role of women

Dr Ujala Nayyar of the Woserving, as part of the PEI (Polio Eradication Initiative) in Punjab, Pakistan, spoke on the role of women working on the frontlines to distribute routine vaccinations in resource-limited areas. She touched on her work to help eradicate the life-threatening disease, as the South Asian country simultaneously battled COVID-19. She said: “Pakistan for the first time has completed one polio-free year. So if we can do this, we can go for the next five years as well. I see eradication after the next five years for sure.”

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Jessy El Murr, senior journalist and host, speaks during the programme Celebrating Unsung Heroes, at Expo 2020 Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied

Emirati documentary

Celebrating Unsung Heroes, hosted by senior journalist Jessy El Murr, also highlighted Emirati documentary photographer Noura Al Neyadi, who presented her ‘Eyes & Stories’ project, immersing the audience in her experiences documenting 148 frontline workers in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi across three weeks during the height of the pandemic.

Noting the universal use of masks, Noura Al Neyadi said: “To me, eyes are a symbol of beauty. Not only that, they tell you the status of a person, their mental health. Are they happy, worried, determined, strong? Do they need help? This is the first thing you spot if someone needs help.”

Cradling three babies

Pamela Zeinoun, a nurse from St George Hospital in Beirut, joined the event virtually. Photographs of her cradling three babies — all healthy today — went viral following the devastating Beirut explosion in August 2020. Pamela Zeinoun said: “As a health-care provider that day, I did my best to keep the babies alive and refused to leave them. It was my duty as a nurse to walk a few extra miles and to [protect life]. I wish my story could inspire you — and many people from around the world — to stay strong and to never give up.”

Frontline workers

Dr Maha Barakat, director general of the UAE’s Frontline Heroes Office, said: “If [smallpox] had not been eradicated, remember these [were] all the efforts of frontline workers, 40 million people would have died ... if we didn’t do enough to try to control and eliminate malaria, we’d have [had] over 7.6 million people — mostly children — die in the last decade. All of these were prevented.

“Around 5.6 million people have died of COVID-19 in the last two years. Imagine if we didn’t have frontline workers supporting in hospitals, getting health systems as strong as possible and administering the almost ten billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Imagine what that grim figure would have been,” she underlined. Raising awareness through art

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Dairo Vargas, a Colombian-born contemporary artist and founder of The Art Listens, shared his compelling journey of using art to raise awareness around mental health, while the event also heard from Carla Cochrane, regional research coordinator at the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba, part of a pandemic response that prioritised support to indigenous communities in the Canadian province.

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Pianist Elenora Borisova explains her use of music to boost morale and alleviate stress for doctors, nurses and patients at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital. Image Credit: Supplied

Pianist Elenora Borisova also explained her use of music to boost morale and alleviate stress for doctors, nurses and patients at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital, before serenading the audience with her composition, Music of Hope.