Abu Dhabi: On May 13, the day a sprawling 46,500-square-feet COVID-19 field hospital opened in Al Razeen on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, it had a handful of doctors and nurses present.
It was OK, thought Dr Partha Banerjee – in charge of setting up and managing the facility. The number of patients that were coming in on the initial days was nothing alarming.
The hospital itself had been set up in a record span of nine days from conceptualisation to inauguration, so completing the rest of the set-up and getting all the enlisted medical practitioners in should have reasonably taken another week or so.
Instead, by May 15, the hospital was buzzing with activity – thanks to 60 doctors, 150 nurses and 15 paramedics who were deployed to the centre in less than 48 hours.
“This is the speed with which the UAE government works – and the COVID-19 pandemic is the best example of its swift response and humanitarian concern,” said Dr Banerjee, who is also the CEO of Al Mazroui Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi.
Strategically located in Al Razeen area, the high-tech facility is nearly the size of a football field and was built by more than 300 people racing day and night to complete it.
The first of five field hospitals by the Abu Dhabi Emergency Crisis and Disasters Committee, it was set up as part of an initiative by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. The next two are expected to open in Abu Dhabi’s Al Mafraq and Mussaffah, followed by Al Dhafra and Al Ain.
Visiting a different field hospital in Abu Dhabi last week, Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed applauded frontline health workers at such facilities and said: “We will get through this, together with our frontline’s relentless efforts and determination.”
While the UAE has deployed enormous medical resources in the fight against COVID-19, said Dr Banerjee, it’s the focus on the humanitarian aspect of the pandemic that makes it stand apart. “There’s virtually no other country that has spent so much to treat its citizens and expats alike, apart from even sending medical aid to all corners of the world. It’s this intention and proactive measures that make the UAE among the global leaders in the battle against COVID-19,” he said.
The Abu Dhabi Health Services Co (SEHA) has recently set up a 1,000-bed field hospital at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) and a 1,200-bed field hospital at the Emirates Humanitarian City, while a third with 1,200 beds will be located at the Dubai Parks and Resorts. The first field hospital in the UAE is managed by the Dubai Health Authority and was opened on April 18 at the Dubai World Trade Centre with a capacity of 300 beds that can be expanded up to 3,000 beds.
The one at Al Razeen has a capacity of 200 beds and 50 advanced ICUs – but is expected to play a vital role in easing the pressure on city-based hospitals and help with faster response to COVID-19 cases in the neighbourhoods.
Who does the new field hospital cater to?
“This facility has been set up for anyone who tests positive for coronavirus with mild to moderate symptoms,” Dr Banerjee said. “Because of the proximity of the hospital to nearby workers’ accommodations, at the moment most of our patients are industrial workers from the catchment area it is designed to serve. But the profile of the patient doesn’t matter – whether it’s a CEO or a worker, the government is committed to providing the same level of care and attention to everyone battling the virus. In Abu Dhabi, this treatment is being provided to everyone free of cost – whether they are citizens or expats,” he added.
As many as 320 people worked on the project 24x7 to design and build the facility, which is being managed by Dr Banerjee and Bidhan Choudhury, the CEO of medical logistics company MediQ.
“We were called on April 16 to start managing one quarantine centre with a capacity to accept 7,000 patients... In the beginning it was just one doctor and three nurses, but within a month we now have close to 175 doctors and 400 nurses. We are managing nine quarantine centres and one hospital - all in Abu Dhabi,” says Dr Banerjee. In total, they are managing a capacity of nearly 13,000 people – including in hotels and other camp sites around the country that have been converted into temporary medical facilities.
Who are the patients?
Explaining the difference between the two types of patients that the field hospital caters to, Dr Banerjee said: “If the patient has tested positive for COVID-19 but is asymptomatic, we generally isolate them here for 14 days. Many of them in fact get absolutely fine after 10 days and are able to go back to a normal life. The complications arise when you get a symptomatic patient with other risk factors, such as cardiac disease, diabetes or compromised immunity. In all such cases, we assess the severity of the underlying risks – in case they are critical, we transfer such patients to dedicated government hospitals that are better equipped to handle them.”
How was the hospital built in nine days?
The doctor said. “Massive resources were mobilised for the project – and everyone from the government ministries to SEHA, Abu Dhabi Police, the Royal Group and other stakeholders worked together with unprecedented speed and cooperation. The National Task Force for COVID-19 always ensured the project was running as per the mandate of the UAE leadership,” he said.
The result is a hospital where the isolation rooms have everything from TV and WiFi to iPads for entertainment, dedicated headsets, coffee tables and sofas. All non-ICU patients can walk around in the huge corridor and visit the café. In addition, the hospital also runs a lab and a pharmacy with high PPE protocol. “Despite being built so quickly, this field hospital can sustain the load for 10 years,” Dr Banerjee said.
What it takes to run a field hospital
According to the team that set up and is now running the field hospital – comprising Dr Banerjee and Choudhury – the project was possible due to the tremendous support from all agencies involved. The stakeholders ensured the constant supply of critical material including medical equipment, medicines, protective gears, food for the patients, hygiene products, sanitisation and supporting healthcare professionals.
“Whenever we asked for anything it was always made available by the authorities concerned at the fastest possible time,” Dr Banerjee said. “For example, we got a major stock of patient gowns, dietary food for patients, even equipment that multispecialty hospitals usually don’t have. This is apart from supplying the ventilators, cardiac monitors and other medical devices that form the backbone of any Covid-19 field hospital. The authorities have not spared any effort or budget to make sure that all patients get the best possible medical treatment and supportive care so that they can heal and recover quickly.”
The UAE’s mix of nearly 200 nationalities also adds to the complex dimensions of treatment in the country, he said. “Being an Indian, I am very grateful for the support and medical infrastructure that the UAE government has rapidly built to address the challenges posed by COVID-19, and also proud to be able to treat more than 7,000 people from across the Indian sub-continent,” he said.
Why is the task critical?
When normal isolation fails for some symptomatic patients, field hospitals typically switch to the ICU.
“The ICU facilities here are as good as any specialty hospital, and already some 16 patients have recovered in the past two days,” said Dr Banerjee. “But we don’t know when a symptomatic case might suddenly turn severe. We have seen in Italy, the US and Iran that many cases have suddenly become very severe to manage before being transferred to ICUs. Within one hour of admission, some infections have turned fatal in these countries, leading to bleeding from the eyes and other complications. The problem is compounded by the fact that there’s no specific treatment for the virus yet. Here, for instance, we are following a protocol involving hydroxychloroquine and anti-retro virals,” he said.
Most field hospitals, like the one in Al Razeen, deploy negative air pressure systems that prevent the spread of the virus inside the facility, and setting it such a system is also not an easy task.
What lies head?
The global medical fraternity believes that the severity of the coronavirus pandemic will possibly last a few more months. “But countries like the UAE are fully prepared for that scenario with enough medicines and facilities to manage any situation,” said Dr Banerjee. “What’s more, experts are being taken very seriously in the UAE, there’s a lot of parallel research going on about faster detections and alternative therapies along with the investment in building isolation and quarantine capacities. So everyone is absolutely safe in this country, but that doesn’t mean that people should violate social distancing rules or fail to take precautions. With the right care and caution, the UAE will come out of the Covid-19 pandemic stronger,” he said.
WHAT’S IN A TYTPICAL ISOLATION ROOM?
• Single bed
• Space to pray
• Flat-screen TV
• Entertainment system
• Single-seater sofa
• Coffee table
• High-speed WiFi
• Wireless headphone
• AC works to create negative air pressure