Students support UAE in the fight against COVID-19

Students from NYU Abu Dhabi apply their skills in labs conducting COVID-19 tests on the UAE’s population.

Ayham Adawi had no second thoughts when he jumped onto the opportunity to work in a lab dedicated to testing samples for COVID-19 infection.

The third-year biology student was part of a handful of NYU Abu Dhabi students recruited by Abu Dhabi’s Department of Health to work in COVID-19 labs run by Pure Health, the lab operator conducting the largest number of tests in the UAE.

For the Jordanian-Palestinian Adawi, a desire to contribute in the battle against the coronavirus and the appeal to gain substantial real world experience made the decision easy to accept the summer internship. Adawi’s parents did not share the same gusto and were more hesitant about their son placing himself on what they perceived as the frontline of the battle against coronavirus.

“It took some convincing, but when I described to them what I would be doing, and my motivation behind it, and how I would be protecting the country where we live, they accepted. The work is hard but I am proud of what I am doing,” he said.

With shifts at times going up to 12 hours a day in a lab conducting tests on over 25,000 samples a day, the work required of the NYUAD students is challenging but adventurous. There was a need for trained diagnostic lab technicians, and the call was made to recruit students with the expertise and willingness to place themselves in a real-world working environment that is often lacking in summer internships. It is an experience that Anique Ahmad, another NYUAD student recruited by Pure Health, said is demanding but immensely rewarding.

“The work can get intense; it can be quite draining but it is rewarding. I enjoy the work a lot and I’ve been really fortunate to work with people who are very experienced in this, not every day would I get the chance to have a hands on experience in learning skills from some of the most experienced lab professionals” said the Pakistani student who graduated this year.

Ahmed, a biology major from the Class of 2020 believes this internship will propel him into his professional career. Although he had initially planned to apply to graduate school after graduation, the COVID-19 social distancing measures and travel restrictions have led him down another path that he has turned into a fruitful experience.

Anique Ahmad, NYUAD Class of 2020.

Pure Health has been working around the clock to support the UAE’s ambitious testing campaign, which was one of the highest in the world in June 2020 in terms of per capita tests.

Abdul Qadir, director of Human Resources at Pure Health, said a lot is demanded of these students and from every individual who can contribute to helping alleviate the COVID-19 outbreak, and those who take a part will look back at this experience with pride.

“As this is a globally defining moment, it will turn into one of those ‘what were you doing during the pandemic’ questions, and I'm proud to say that NYUAD, Pure Health and the Department of Health are trying to do as much as we can. The value of experience that these students are getting is not only going to polish their technical skills, but it's also going to give them an edge going forward,” he said.

Abdul Qadir said it is every capable individual’s responsibility to contribute to helping the situation and that NYUAD “has most definitely stepped forward in this regard.” He added that students should take advantage of an opportunity like this whereby they can gain real-lab experience that would be quite difficult to access under normal circumstances.

Dr Ayaz Virji, NYUAD’s director of the Health Center, said that the Department of Health is tapping into what he considers as NYUAD’s most valuable asset: its intellectual capital.

Dr Virji said that a university like NYUAD has managed to translate its academic strength into developing services that directly contribute to the health and safety of the community and provide an “all-hands on deck” attitude.

For the students, he said that the experience is going to be invaluable.

“It doesn’t get more real than this as far as applying what you’ve learnt in the university lab to the direct response to a worldwide pandemic. Science students who have experience working in a lab, supporting the team, working with chemical reagents, working under a fume hood, understanding personal protective equipment and the like are the ones that are best suited to jump to this cause,” he said.

As for NYUAD’s community response, attitude and enthusiasm to contribute everything it has, not only to the government of its home country, but also a global challenge, Dr Virji says he is “very proud to see how many people stepped up. This is what you were trained for, you were trained at NYUAD to handle the world’s problems. So keep it up.”