Web system will track outbreaks of disease

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — A new electronic system for reporting infectious diseases in the capital has been launched by the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi, The National reported Dec. 6.

Officials said Dec. 5 that the move would have a dramatic effect on tracking and managing outbreaks.

After launching the e-notification system the HAAD will turn its attention to “encouraging, enabling and enforcing” stricter regulations on reporting infectious diseases. It hopes that by eliminating the paper trail it will be able to collect more accurate, real-time information and better track the spread of diseases in the emirate.

There are 53 contagious diseases on the HAAD’s list and the law requires every case to be reported to the authority.

Each disease has a case definition and it may be that certain diseases, depending on how contagious or dangerous they are, need to be reported when first suspected. The list includes tuberculosis, hepatitis, HIV, rabies, meningitis, measles, chickenpox and salmonella.

Health care workers can now register cases on a Web-based system rather than sending paper notification to the HAAD headquarters in Abu Dhabi. The system will eventually be tied to the licensing of health care professionals to ensure they are following the rules.

Oliver Harrison, director of public health at the HAAD, said that based on international standards and the demographics of Abu Dhabi’s population, the authority received notification of less than half of reportable cases.

It currently receives about 1,000 notifications every month and has a response time of 24 hours, partly because the system is entirely paper-based. The turnaround time would decrease to two hours with the new system, he said.

“We need the data for three reasons,” Harrison said. “Firstly to drive patient care. As the doctor notifies us we will provide them with feedback about how to manage the case. Secondly, we will also share appropriate anonymous data with other agencies such as education authorities if there is a threat of an outbreak in a school, or the municipality if there is a food-borne disease outbreak.”

The data would also be used to drive research and policy innovation. It would be of interest on a global level because it provided a sample base of many nationalities, he added.

Harrison said immigrant workers, who come from 161 countries, expose the United Arab Emirates to a substantial risk of imported diseases.

Over time the authority will concentrate on stricter enforcement to ensure its records are accurate. It will compare its own data with international benchmarks of incident rates to look for possible gaps.

“If we expect to see 2,000 cases of something and we only see 1,000, we will know something is wrong,” Harrison said.

“We also analyze data on electronic claims submitted to insurance companies so we will know if someone is being treated for a reportable infectious disease but has not reported it to us.”

Riad Abdelkarim, the director of medical affairs at Tawam Hospital in Al Ain, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, said he thought the under-reporting of infectious diseases was linked to heavy workloads and a lack of awareness.

“With education and awareness there will be a gradual increase in utilization. Part of it is getting people educated to the point where they realize the potential for tremendous community benefits from the information,” he said.