UAE : Closure of Schools on Flu Worries is ‘Unlikely’


Closure of schools on flu worries is ‘unlikely’

ABU DHABI - SEP. 08: Schools in the capital are “very unlikely” to close because of concerns over swine flu, a senior education official said yesterday.

However, he warned parents and schools to behave more responsibly to avoid causing “panic that is uncalled for and a state of chaos”.

Dr Amer al Kindi, the school health manager at Abu Dhabi Education Council, said that schools, and in turn, parents, needed to calm down and abide by the directions issued by the council and the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi on handling possible swine flu cases.

“We are co-ordinating with the Health Authority to prevent H1N1 [the virus that causes swine flu] in schools in the Abu Dhabi emirate,” said Dr al Kindi, referring to the action plan developed in conjunction with the HAAD to prepare schools and parents for preventing swine flu among students in the new school year.

“All schools have to attend the Adec mandatory training on influenza prevention.”

While training for school staff has been going on for some time, courses on swine flu began yesterday for private schools throughout the emirate and will end by Thursday.

Two members of staff from each private school in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Al Gharbia are required to attend the three-hour course.

“During the training, we give general information about H1N1 and how to identify and report a case of influenza-like symptoms and what the precautionary measures are that schools should take to prevent swine flu in their schools,” explained Dr al Kindi.

Schools had not been correctly filling in the official notification form found on the Adec website that should be submitted once a pupil exhibits flu-like symptoms.

The form can only be sent in to an official fax number or e-mail address – not as a personal note.

“Schools have to notify the right authorities at Adec as soon as possible if they have students with flu symptoms,” said Dr al Kindi.

“What can I do with these incomplete forms? How can I register a case as a possible flu case if there are no symptoms?

“Schools are causing panic, and it is because they are not attending the mandatory training.”

He also stressed that “closing schools is very unlikely and doubtful at the current stage of the situation”.

Education officials, though, have previously said that closing schools was an option.

The Adec said in a statement that if it orders a school closure, students may have to be taught online while they are out of classes.

A decision to close schools to contain the spread of swine flu would be made by the council, on the advice of the health authority.

A council spokesman said that parents independently deciding not to send their children to school and schools postponing the start of the school year or suspending classes indefinitely “causes chaos and panic and has to stop”.

“People are still living their lives, and parents go out with their children to the malls, the souqs, the cinemas, and these are all places where kids can pick up swine flu easier than in a school,” he said.

“People are not thinking clearly.”

The confusion can be curbed once schools’ representatives attend the training and learn the correct procedure for dealing with suspected cases of swine flu, Dr al Kindi said. “I receive calls at 3am from parents who should not even have my number but got them out of panicked principals.”

A call centre for schools to report swine flu, available at 800-555, is expected to be launched today, he said.

Swine flu fact sheets in Arabic and English for schools are available on the health authority’s website at

Gareth Jones, director of the American International School in Abu Dhabi, said the Adec’s directions were clear to most schools.

“We have to report any cases where we have sent home children with flu-like symptoms,” he said, “and then we have to inform them if that student tests positive for swine flu.”

Mr Jones confirmed that a student at his school had contracted swine flu.

The British School-Al Khubairat in the capital confirmed soon after that two students had tested positive for swine flu and said that a third was being tested.

Yesterday, Dr George Robinson, superintendent of the American Community School in Abu Dhabi, said his school may also have had its first case of H1N1 this week.

A Grade 1 boy had symptoms that were consistent with H1N1 and was prescribed Tamiflu. However, a definitive diagnosis had not been made.

“It’s inevitable that we are going to have some students who come down with it,” Dr Robinson said.

“If parents don’t feel comfortable sending their child to school, then it’s their decision, but something parents need to think about is that this is a flu, like all other flus, that is going to take time to work through the system.”

Dr Jon Craig, a general practitioner at the American Hospital Dubai, also stressed that school closures would only delay an inevitable spread of the virus.

“If it is going to pass through the population, it will do so any time,” he said. “Delaying schools will just delay a spread.”

Surgeons in Abu Dhabi treat rare cancer

ABU DHABI - SEP. 08: A 14-year-old Sudanese boy is recovering steadily after doctors in Abu Dhabi saved his life by removing a grapefruit-size tumour from his lower jaw.

Ahmed Ibrahim Mohammed has a rare immune disorder, xeroderma pigmentosum, that makes him susceptible to developing malignant tumours of the skin as a result of exposure to sunlight. Doctors estimate that the disorder affects one in 200,000 people.

The child’s father, Ibrahim Mohammed Ibrahim, struggled for more than two years to find a surgeon in the region who would remove the tumour.

In March, surgeons at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC), which is managed by the US-based Cleveland Clinic, agreed to perform the very complex and rare procedure.

The lower jaw, chin and floor of Ahmed’s mouth needed to be removed with the tumour, then rebuilt using bone from his lower leg.

The first major operation lasted more than 18 hours. It was the first surgery of its kind in the UAE.

Dr Robert Lorenz, a specialist in head and neck surgery who is affiliated with the Cleveland Clinic and is a surgical consultant at SKMC, performed the operation with the assistance of SKMC staff and visiting doctors.

“Most places in the world would not have performed the surgery for him,” Dr Lorenz said yesterday. “There are a number of risks, as it is such a complex surgery.”

As well as rebuilding the lower jaw, surgeons also had to integrate different tissue types: skin, muscles, arteries, veins and nerves.

Dr Lorenz explained that although the cancer that has affected Ahmed was easily treatable, it must be caught early.

Ahmed’s family noticed the beginnings of the tumour on his lip when the child was eight years old.

Ahmed had surgery in Sudan, his family’s homeland, but doctors did not succeed in removing all of the tumour, so it grew back.

“They searched for four years to find a place to have the treatment,” Dr Lorenz said. “The cancer was curable, but it needed a very big surgery.

“Because of the complexity of the surgery, he was refused care because they didn’t have the facilities to treat the tumour.

“But his father would not accept ‘no’. He showed incredible determination on behalf of his son. I have tremendous respect for him.”

Because the tumour limited his ability to eat, Ahmed, who lives with his family in Liwa, was malnourished when he arrived at SKMC.

And the 18-hour surgery in March was only the first of several operations. Ahmed will have to undergo two or three smaller surgical procedures to rebuild the teeth on the lower jaw and repair some of the scarring. “He has been brave,” Dr Lorenz said. “It is a risky surgery, but he has healed very well.”

An important risk – but an unlikely outcome – from the surgery was that the “reconstruction completely falls apart”, Dr Lorenz said.

“He did have an infection afterwards, but we were able to take care of it. One of the risks to the surgery is that someone could develop a very serious infection and potentially die.”

SEHA, the Abu Dhabi health services company that operates government hospitals in the emirate, is providing all the funding for Ahmed’s treatment and aftercare. The company has said that Ahmed can continue to use SKMC’s services.

Because ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the primary trigger for the cancers associated with the disorder, Ahmed must stay covered up whenever possible, so he wears a baseball cap and scarf outdoors.

And he has been given special training to help spot the early signs of the malignant tumours, which are likely to recur, as early treatment is essential.

Baggage staff deny stealing suitcases

DUBAI - SEP. 08: Three Emirates Airline employees faced two charges of theft from passengers at Dubai International Airport yesterday, on top of a previous charge of stealing gold worth Dh3.8 million (US$1m).

FR, 33, JA, 30, and FA, 24, all Pakistani baggage counter employees, denied stealing a suitcase containing 550 mobile phones worth more than Dh64,000, while FR and JA also denied stealing another suitcase containing 480 phones worth more than Dh196,000.

On August 16 the defendants appeared in court and denied stealing a suitcase containing the gold, which belonged to a Libyan man.

According to prosecution documents, a 37-year-old Nigerian visitor said she had been told by FR to open her suitcase at the baggage counter because it was over the weight limit.

The defendant then told her that he would help her and permit it to go through.

Prosecutors allege the defendants produced stickers in JA’s name which were put on bags they intended to steal. JA is alleged to have taken the suitcases to Pakistan to sell the contents.

A fourth suspect is on the run and is charged in both cases.

Judge Hamad Abdel Latif adjourned the case until later this month.

Ramadan checks catch 31 offenders

DUBAI - SEP. 08: At least 31 food outlets have been fined or cautioned for breaking municipality rules on the display of food during Ramadan.

Among the offences were displaying food uncovered, poor personal hygiene and absence of temperature control.

Many of the establishments were fined while others escaped with warnings after giving assurances that they would follow the regulations in future.

Cafeterias and some restaurants in Dubai display and sell sweet and savoury foods outside their premises a few hours before the fast is broken during the holy month. The municipality has issued guidelines on how these very popular snacks should be cooked, handled and stored.

“A circular was issued to all cafeterias and restaurants in this regard stating the requirements for displaying of food. Restaurants who fulfil these regulations were issued permits, However, we found violators who had no permit or were not following regulations,” said Abdul Aziz Basheer, senior food inspection official at Dubai Municipality’s food control department.

He said 168 permits had been given out.

The regulations state that the food cannot be displayed until two hours before the iftar break, and should be covered at all times. Cooked food with stuffed meat, vegetables and eggs must be kept at 65°C or above. The rules also cover handling of food and the personal hygiene of the handlers.

Although the regulations are in place every year during Ramadan, Mr Basheer agreed that the campaign had been aggressive and more concentrated this year. “This year we have been more strict,” he said.

Recent cases of food poisoning as well as the hot weather were the reason for this. “This Ramadan, the temperature is much higher than usual and so we have to be more careful.”

He warned of heavy fines and possible closures for breaking the rules. A first offence normally leads to a warning; after that fines range from Dh2,000 to Dh4,000 (US$550 to $1,100) and can be doubled for subsequent offences.

Meanwhile, the Dubai Department of Economic Development said that inspection teams were conducting daily checks to ensure food was not being sold illegally during fasting hours. Mohammed Shael, chief executive of the business registration and licensing division of the DED, said: “Restaurants, cafeterias and fast-food outlets that have a trade licence... are not permitted to cook or deliver food during the fasting hours of the month of Ramadan, unless they obtain a special permit from DED.

“We have an inspection team operating from 1pm to 6pm during Ramadan which is inspecting various locations to ensure they are following the rules of holding such a permit,” he added.

Special permits costing Dh5,110 (US$1,390) allow food establishments to prepare meals and deliver them throughout the day. Mr Shael said more than 510 businesses had been granted such permits this year.

Cafeterias in Dubai said they were well aware of the regulations but it was important for them to provide the service. “We received the circular from the municipality and follow all regulations. The food display is very popular and is sold out within an hour of us making it,” said Ali Mustafa, of Tasty Cafeteria in Deira.

Mohamed al Reyaysa, the spokesman for the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, said restaurants in the capital also had to adhere to regulations concerning the sale of food during the day in Ramadan.

While supermarkets were allowed to operate unhindered, restaurants had to apply for a special licence, serve customers discreetly and not cater to Muslims, who were expected to fast during the holy month. “In Ramadan, normally all food establishments are closed, except for ones that sell to non-Muslims,” said Mr al Reyaysa. He added that restaurants were required to have a separate entrance for customers during fasting hours, so food was not served in a “conspicuous way”.

It was necessary for everyone to show “respect for the culture and traditions, that people from abroad also need to pay attention to”, he said.

Restaurant inspections were a “routine” part of wide-ranging spot checks the authority had been conducting in a Ramadan campaign to promote food safety, after it disclosed last month that some Carrefour and Lulu Hypermarket meat counters had been closed for violations that included selling expired products.

“There is a lot more demand and pressure on food establishments in Ramadan, so we worried that some precautions would be overlooked,” said Mr al Reyaysa.

Different units within the authority had made 1,266 visits to restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, catering companies, supermarkets and vegetable and fruit markets during the first 10 days of Ramadan. The authority issued 359 warnings and recorded 12 more serious violations, but did not close any stores. Mr al Reyaysa said it did not yet have a complete breakdown of the exact offences, but no stores in Abu Dhabi had been fined for operating during fasting hours without a licence. “The restaurants know their rights and their duties,” he said.

It will be for the courts to decide how to penalise the restaurants for the 12 serious violations – usually by imposing a fine.


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