The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) launched a COVID-19 environmental testing pilot, in partnership with a number of governmental, educational and research institutions in Qatar, to support and enhance surveillance and contact tracing efforts.
During the pilot phase, innovative technology was used to collect surface, air and waste water samples and test for the presence of COVID-19. Results will allow the authorities to detect the presence of the virus and monitor any potential spread earlier through its concentration in wastewater. It will also help assess the efficacy of cleaning protocols to remove viral contamination in different environments.
Environmental testing provides significant support for the epidemiological and contact tracing teams on the ground. It extends the reach of the contact tracing team beyond individuals who have been in contact with positive COVID-19 cases to areas and environments that the positive individual may have visited and as such, present a risk.
The environmental testing research is one example of the innovative, evidence-based approach Qatar is taking in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The results will inform the response and strategic planning moving forward.
According to Sheikh Dr Mohamed Hamad Al Thani, Director of the Department of Public Health at MoPH, the immediate need is clearly to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and support Qatar’s efforts with additional data to track viral spread. However on longer term, setting up such a national environmental screening infrastructure would go a long way toward screening the supply chain into Qatar and supporting screening efforts during the FIFA 2022 World Cup.
Dr Khaled Machaca of Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar said the pilot study highlights the established scientific base with diverse and complementary expertise in Qatar that has been built over the years through efforts of the Qatari leadership, particularly Qatar Foundation and Qatar National Research Fund.
With the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and the gradual resumption of normal activities, MoPH plans to scale up the project to include educational facilities and local water treatment networks to provide enhanced surveillance and support the robust early detection efforts.
The pilot study was launched as part of the initiative taken by the Scientific Reference and Research Task Force established as part of COVID-19 response in Qatar, to provide the available scientific evidence to policy makers for their decision making.
MoPH is supported in this project by eight organisations, which include Hamad Medical Corporation, Qatar University, Qatar Environmental and Energy Research Institute, Public Works Authority (ASHGHAL), Qatar Biobank, Qatar Biomedical Research Institute, Texas A&M University – Qatar, and Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar.
Visit moph.gov.qa for more information.