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The infectious threat

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Although the infectious disease threat is relatively modest as compared to that of non-communicable diseases in the Sultanate of Oman, the trend is up.

“Curiously, infectious diseases are still with us, and they are likely to remain eternal to our existence with their challenge and fascination,” says a report in Oman Medical Journal.

Infectious diseases are a cognitively comprehensive discipline that is almost unique in modern medicine with its capability to cure and prevent disease, identify specific disease causes (microorganisms), and deal with diverse outbreaks and pandemics.

“Contrary to the non-communicable diseases, the true burden of infectious diseases in Oman is largely underestimated, mostly overlooked, and not entirely perceived,” says the report by Dr Abdullah A Balkhair, Infectious Diseases Unit, Department of Medicine, Sultan Qaboos University Hospital.

“Unlike all other medical specialties, infectious diseases are consistently changing, habitually unpredictable, frequently stimulating, and incredibly rewarding,” the report emphasises the need for more physicians in this field.

Titled “Adult Infectious Diseases Fellowship Training Program: The Time is Now”, the report at the outset pays tribute to Dr Sharon Thoms, who arrived in Muttrah in 1909 to set up the first medical mission in Oman. Nearly a hundred years ago, infectious diseases like cholera, plague, malaria, leprosy and leishmaniasis have all been recognised and reported in Oman.

“More than a century later, infectious diseases continue to pose substantial, albeit of different disease spectra and complexities, a challenge in Oman with irrefutable significant health burden and societal impact,” Dr Abdullah points out in the report.

With the recent Covid-19 pandemic and its associated health, economic and societal impact, there is a pervasive understanding of the damaging ways in which infectious diseases affect the world today.

Among the many lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic are how dangerously unprepared the world has been to deal with such pandemics and that infectious diseases physicians are pivotal to real-time response to public health emergencies.

“One of the most valuable and often underappreciated qualities of infectious diseases physicians is their ability to direct the care of mystifying and perplexing cases,” the report that appeared in the July edition of the Journal points out.

They are also often challenging and seemingly underappreciated, at least until needed. These attributes appear to be relatively distinctive to this field with an ever-expanding catalog of challenging pathogens and a never-deprived kinetic armamentarium.

Despite “infectious diseases physicians are the stewards of this arguably most impactful specialty of all medicine”, the report claims while expressing concerns that “adult infectious diseases physicians, albeit are insufficient over the past 10 years”.

Allowing for projected population growth for 2030 and using a conservative estimate of 0.4/100,000 population, an extra 13 trained adult infectious diseases physicians are needed to meet the 2030 national healthcare needs, the report points out.

Moreover, several key factors are likely to increase demand shortly, further augmenting the current mismatch between supply and demand for infectious diseases physicians in Oman.

These include the potential impact of emerging infectious diseases, growing global travel, antibiotic resistance, the expansion of stewardship responsibilities, and overall population growth especially the growing number of elderly, immunocompromised, and those requiring advanced and complex medical and surgical interventions.

Given the current and projected scarcities joined with the ever-increasing complexities of infections necessitating specialist-level care, Dr Abdullah stresses founding a sustainable, locally administered fellowship training programme to ensure enough future infectious diseases physicians in Oman.

This, he says, will offset the imbalance between supply and demand as it is a strategic national health necessity and a realisation of Oman’s 2040 vision.


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