Coronavirus: Arab women lead groundbreaking studies

At one research centre in Saudi Arabia, 90% of experts who studied the virus were women


Since the pandemic struck, female scientists of the Arab world have been at the forefront of research — from establishing the link between obesity and Covid-19; to determining how virus transmission can be reduced; and designing test kits for developing countries.

Arab women have churned out groundbreaking studies, one after another, helping policymakers come up with protocols and guiding the public on how to stay safe from the virus.

A recent webinar, organised by L’Oréal and Unesco, shed light on the significant contributions of the region’s top-notch female scientists.

One top expert — Dr Habiba AlSafar, director of the Biotechnology Centre of Khalifa University — explained how a seven to 14-day quarantine could slow down the spread of the virus.

“After quarantine, if a person is Covid-positive, the transmission speed of the virus slows down drastically from what it was on day one. Chances of transmission are further reduced when the person takes precautions, such as wearing masks, avoiding crowded areas and maintaining a safe distance from others,” Dr AlSafar said.

The speed of transmission also depends on other factors, like the virus strain, environment and the lifestyle of an individual, she added.

“Physically active people or those who have a healthy lifestyle recover faster from Covid as their body easily sheds off the viral load,” Dr AlSafar explained.

Link between obesity and Covid-19

Another female scientist — Dr Saba Al Heialy, assistant professor of immunology at the Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences in Dubai — focused on the correlation of obesity and Covid-19.

“Obese people are more prone to contracting Covid-19 with increased severity because they were found to have a much higher level of a receptor called ACE2 or angiotensin, which the Covid virus uses to enter the body,” Dr Al Heialy said.

“We also found through research on animal models that weight loss brings back balance to the immune system and can make you less likely to fall prey to Covid.”

90% women in one research team

At King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Saudi Arabia, 90 per cent of experts who worked on Covid-19 testing were women.

Dr Maha Al Mozaini, infectious disease scientist and educator at research centre, said: “Our effort was to establish in-house viral testing which we managed by the sheer dedication of our team... We worked day and night during the lockdown to understand this virus.

“We also designed certain test kits that could help poor or developing countries to test people without spending much on expensive kits.”


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