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Just recently, we interviewed Dr. George Cheriyan, the CEO/Chief Medical Officer of the American Mission Hospital to talk about COVID-19 and the future of healthcare in Bahrain.

How serious is the pandemic in Bahrain and how has it affected your operations?

The pandemic is certainly very serious but compared to global statistics, Bahrain has done well so far. We’ve seen a downward trend of about 10% in footfall to outpatient departments?

What role is the American Mission Hospital playing during the pandemic?

We are involved in the testing, tracing and tracking of patients that come to our doors. The good thing about Bahrain being a small country is that the treatment centers are centralized to just two or three places. We screen patients and refer them to treatment centers when they exhibit signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

Dr. George Cheriyan, the CEO/Chief Medical Officer of the American Mission Hospital

Has the Covid pandemic revealed ways in which healthcare providers can improve their services?

The Covid pandemic certainly has highlighted gaps in healthcare services. Even though history has taught us a lot of lesson on how to deal with pandemics around the region, public health still wasn’t prepared for what happened last year.

The biggest thing that we have learned is that infection control practices will have to be in the forefront of every healthcare provider and as part of public policy. The availability of PPEs, isolation facilities, respirators to deal with sick patients – are all adequate needs that will have to be provisioned at all times. When these are not available, the strategy fails.

Most countries have learned that to deal with any kind of pandemic, and there’s going to be more pandemics around, we will have to be prepared at all times. It is like the firefighting service – you can’t rectify a firefighting service whether how big or small it is – you have to be prepared in advance.

Are precautionary measures going to be in place forever?

I think that social distancing, sanitization and face masks are going to be around for quite some time.

We’ve learned that the virus is a type of an RNA virus which mutates very fast. Now, we have the British, South African and Latin American variant. So what we thought was the initial COVID-19 of last year is no longer the virus that is producing the surge in most countries including Bahrain.

Bahrain for the first time has seen numbers exceed 800 per day and that is not from the original strain, but the mutant strain that is 50 to 60 times more infectious. So even though we are one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing and face masks are absolute musts; even if people are vaccinated.

A part of the great myths of vaccinations is when people say, “I’ve got two doses of vaccine, my antibody levels are high and I’m fine” – that is not true at all. Even though you’re vaccinated, you can still carry the virus and transmit it. You might not become unwell with the Covid infection but you certainly can transmit the virus, especially with the mutant strains around.

How are mutant strains affecting the vaccines?

The initial doses of vaccines have been formed against the original strain of COVID-19 and nobody knows exactly how effective these vaccines are for the multiple new strains. I think what’s going to happen over the next few years is exactly like the influence of vaccines that we have to take every year. The COVID-19 vaccine contents will likely change depending on which strain produces the most illness.

We are completely in unchartered territory and the world as we have known it last year, is never going to return back to normal – at least for the next three to four years. We will learn to live with the virus. The virus is not going to disappear.

According to the WHO, unless there is a vaccine rollout globally, there could be pockets of infection in countries that are not vaccinated. The mutant strain will begin there and again, affect the countries where vaccines have been rolled out. So there are real dangers in how the world deals with the vaccination debate – it has to be on a global scale rather than on a piecemeal patch.

Is the American Mission Hospital working on any new plans for the future? What coming up that you can tell us about?

AMH over the last 10 years has certainly expanded quite a bit. Now, we have three ambulatory care facilities in Amwaj, Riffa and Sar.

We are in the process of building a state-of-the-art hundred-plus bed hospital in Aali. What’s different with this hospital is that it is completely futuristically designed. The hospital is lean, green and fully digitized. It is fully IT enable and 60-70% of its power is going to come from solar panels. It’s going to be a teaching hospital and we will have outside collaborations that will help us upscale and provide world-class facilities for the people of Bahrain.

Is there much you’ve learned from Covid that’s affected the designing and planning of the new hospital?

The hospital was designed pre-Covid. As the pandemic swept through, we had to make design changes in terms of procedures for isolation especially with our air conditioning systems. We have changed quite a bit to ensure that if a future pandemic is happening, people would have all the infrastructure in place to deal with such a problem.

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