WHO holds meeting to discuss MERS

MERSThe World Health Organization is holding a meeting in Geneva today, to discuss the latest developments related to the MERS coronavirus.

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, is a member of the coronavirus family, like SARS which first appeared in China in 2002.

Both strains of the virus are believed to have originated first in animals, then mutated to infect humans.

First reported two years ago in Saudi Arabia, MERS causes fever, pneumonia and even kidney failure.

Cases have also been detected elsewhere in the Middle East, including the UAE, as well as in Europe and now two cases in the United States.

Around a quarter of the 480 people who have been diagnosed with MERS in Saudi Arabia, have died from it.

A spokesman for the World Health Organisation, Tarik Jasarevic, said they recently sent an expert team to KSA to study the latest developments in transmission of the disease.

jasarevic“We had a team of experts that visited a couple of weeks ago Saudi Arabia, looking into why this latest surge and whether there was any specific change in the transmissibility of the viruses.”

Although many patients in a recent outbreak in Jeddah appear to have caught the disease in hospitals, MERS has been found in bats and camels, and many experts believe camels are the animal from which humans are becoming infected.

Last week, the WHO advised people at most risk of severe disease to avoid contact with camels; take precautions when visiting places where the animals are present and to avoid drinking raw milk.

At today’s meeting in Geneva, a committee will review the situation in affected countries, and look at the report by the expert team.

“The recent surge in number of cases that we have seen in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as some cases that have been exported to other countries, raised public concern and raised questions whether the virus has changed in any way and this is what members of emergency committee will be looking into,” said Jasarevic.

Based on today’s meeting, the committee will consider the experts’ report and advise the director-general on next steps.

As broadcast on Emirates News.

New Dubai refinery set to tip balance of global gold industry

emirati-goldOne of the world’s biggest gold refineries is under construction at Dubai Multi Commodities Centre.

When completed next year, it will help to alter the balance of power in the global gold industry.

While the growth in global demand for gold is shifting east to Asia’s fast-growing economies, key industry activities like refining and clearing remain dominated by Europe and the United States.

But the construction of a new 60 million dollar refinery, by Kaloti Precious Metals, is part of efforts to change that pattern.

So is the plan by the Dubai Gold and Commodities Exchange to introduce a spot gold contract this June.

kalotiMunir al Kaloti, who’s president and founder of Kaloti Precious metals, says Dubai currently represents only 11 percent of the world’s gold business but by 2020 this percentage is expected to grow to around 40 percent, becoming one the highest in the world.

Kaloti’s new refinery will have an annual capacity of 1,400 tonnes of gold making it more than three times the size of any of the UAE’s current refineries.

Current annual capacity in the United Arab Emirates is about eight hundred tonnes, including a 450-tonne refinery already operated by Kaloti.

Switzerland dominates the industry with over 3,000 tonnes, accounting for roughly 50 percent or more of global refining.

But nearly 40 percent of the world’s physical gold trade passed through Dubai last year, according to the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre.

The value of gold import and export contracts handled by Dubai has soared from 6 billion dollars in 2003, to 75 billion this year.

Dubai’s drive to develop exchange-based trading may be as important to its growth as a gold centre as expansion of its refining capacity.
goldbullionIn April, the Dubai Gold and Commodities Exchange, which currently trades gold futures, said it would introduce a spot gold contract this June.

The exchange is in the final stages of finalising specifications but the contract is expected to be for 1 kg of 0.995 purity gold, the type favoured by Indian consumers and investors.

If Dubai succeeds, it will be a new example of how the emirate can use its proximity to top consumers in India and China, its low-tax environment and highly developed transport sector to gain influence in industries traditional dominated by other players.

Originally broadcast on Emirates News

Inspiring Young Innovation


The region’s biggest student science exhibition opened in Dubai today to showcase innovations designed and created by the UAE’s top science students.

Hosted by the Emirates Foundation, Think Science aims to inspire students to engage with technology and then help them connect with industry.

There are 160 projects on display here, representing the work of 400 students, which shows there’s hope yet, for the next generation of young scientists, according to Clare Woodcraft-Scott, CEO of the Emirates Foundation.

“A lot of young people are getting a bit disillusioned with the concept of science and technology,” she says.

“It’s not an easy subject and we see a reduction in the number of young people choosing this as either a subject or a future career,” says Woodcraft-Scott. “We feel that’s a real shame because the UAE’s future growth is going to depend on science and technology talent.”

Mariem el Moctar, Al Qadisyah School

Mariem el Moctar, Al Qadisyah School

There’s no mistaking how just much talent was on display at the Dubai World Trade Center today though.

Mariem el Moctar from Al Qadisyah School is demonstrating how to collect electricity from wasted heat.

“Everyone knows that in the UAE the weather is so hot and in every building there is A/C so using the wasted heat that A/C produces, to produce electricity,” explains Mariem.

Gerard Ezcurra, Director of International Business at Vernier Software & Technology also sees an opportunity to harness this energy, to convert bright young scientific minds into the UAE’s technological workforce of the future.

“We live in such a scientific world and science is losing its joy amongst the children so we’re very excited when we can come over here and give them some extra tools, some extra way to build their excitement,” says Ezcurra.

Thousands of scientists are needed to fill positions in the UAE workplace, especially the private sector, with priority areas including nuclear engineering, aeronautical engineering, energy and IT.

Sami Issa is the  Executive Director of the Advanced Technologies Investment Corporation (ATIC). He says events like this are crucial to attracting home-grown talent.

“ATIC is highly interested, as is Mubadala, in developing the science and technology generation and we invest heavily in programs to promote science to educate Emiratis and move them towards more science and technology,” says Issa.

To encourage them to pursue work at the forefront of innovation, they need to be able access the very latest technologies.

Amal Al Masri, Al Shohub School

Amal Al Masri, Al Shohub School

“The science that you and I learned a long long time ago, computers, technology has progressed so far, our students are so much more sophisticated, we want to give them the same level of sophistication,” said Ezcurra.

Another practical application of chemistry is demonstrated by Amal Al Masri from the Al Shohub School.

She says her model of a basic hydrogen fuel cell relies on artificial photosynthesis to extract the hydrogen from water.

Oxygen isn’t the only by-product from the process – students are finding they’re getting hooked on science, without even knowing it.

“Because they’ll get engaged with the subject as well as the project and work very hard for it and represent the chemistry or the project and the rest. I think this program is the best,” said Amal.

And that engagement is precisely what today is all about.

Once they’re hooked, the challenge is keeping them there – which the Foundation has covered as well.

“Emirates Foundation is really a one-stop-shop for young people so we keep those people engaged in our database, they will be engaged some of them as ambassadors, says Woodcraft-Scott.

“Equally the companies are going to be reaching out to them so the companies here are not just interested in showcasing their employee proposition but they’re also interested in Emirati talent.”

A panel of 42 scientific experts from universities and corporate entities will review and evaluate the 160 projects to determine the winners, which will be announced in June.

Originally broadcast on Emirates News, 21 April 2013

UAE camel milk goes global

For thousands of years in this region, camel’s milk has been regarded as almost an elixir of life, its health-giving properties known far and wide. One Dubai camel farm now thinks its time to spread the message even further and has plans for global expansion, as Noni Edwards reports.

The camel is a humble animal, but humans have been relying on these trusty “ships of the desert” – for survival, for as long as history has been recorded.

But now they’re serving a very different function, as the key component in one of the most recent types of food manufacturing operation to be developed.

The Camelicious dairy on the outskirts of Dubai, is the first dedicated and regulated camel milk factory to be built in the world.

There are around three thousand camels but to support their ambitious export plans, they’re going to double the size of the farm.

The farm’s manager, Dr Peter Nagy, says there is good reason for the rest of the world to know about camel milk.

“It could help in treating TB, tuberculosis, patients. Also there’s data showing that it can have antiviral effects against certain viruses.”

Even for everyday consumption he says it’s easier to drink than other milk. It has a different protein structure so people who are allergic to dairy from cows, sheep or goats can digest camel milk.

The benefits continue: he says the vitamin content is higher and all importantly, the natural fat content is lower.

In cafes around Dubai that have been testing out the camel milk retail concept, this group of Saudi women is rediscovering what their families have known for centuries.

Taghreed Turki, from Medina, said she doesn’t know why it’s fallen out of fashion.

“It was drunk by my grandfather and my ancestors and was the best drink for them but now it’s not very popular,” she said. “It’s healthy and is said to be a deterrent against cancer.”

Responses from all nationalities have been positive.

Judy Havard, from Adelaide in Australia was taken by complete surprise when asked about the taste.

“Beautiful, actually it’s a lovely cup of coffee and I didn’t even realise that it was camel milk,” she said.

Derek Turner, from Leicester in the UK said he thought it was interesting. “I thought it was sweet but not overpowering, refreshing and different in a nice way.

Roddy Fok-Shan, general manager of the Majlis al Nasseem Coffee Shops says his Asian customers are lapping it up.

“The Japanese and Chinese market, the Asian market has a big craze for the camel milk,” he explains. “One of our major customers for the camel milk chocolate is really the Asian market.”

Camel milk exports to Europe will begin later this month, after EU approval was granted in February, and after that? The sky’s the limit.

Originally broadcast on Emirates News, 2 April 2013

Barack Is Back: A lighter look from the UAE

How did the UAE react to news of Barack Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney in the US elections? I took a trawl of the local web to have a look.

Starting with an example of our mainstream media, the Dubai-based Gulf News summarised the reactions of local residents with a top line that Obama was “viewed as the lesser of two evils”. They continue to say that their responses were mixed, but there’s not that much evidence of that from the three (yes, three) vox pops they included.

A 40-year-old Jordanian-American teacher in Abu Dhabi said Obama was the better choice as Mitt Romney is too conservative.

A 22-year-old Emirati student in Dubai is said to believe Romney would have turned out to be another George W. Bush if he’d won.

Finally, a 22-year-old Syrian-American who said she’s ‘happy’ with the result but says she didn’t vote because she missed the deadline but admits she doesn’t follow US politics and only hopes Obama does something about Syria because things seem to be getting worse and worse.

I would’ve stopped interviewing the general public then and there as well.

The Twittersphere was rife with reaction, however. Dubai’s Al Wasl Football Club for one were barracking for Obama according to Twitter.

@Al_Wasl tweeted:

Congratulations: #AlWasl’s Fan, Barck [sic] Hussain Obama (@BarackObama) wins the US Presidential Elections again

They post a link to this article from 2009 in the Daily Mail, claiming Obama had ditched West Ham in favour of Al Wasl after a fan sent him a Wasl shirt.

Laura, a Dubai-based Brit known for her shopping blog Buy Now, Blog Later, also tweeted:

Had stressful dreams about the US election. Romney got in, Iran was invaded and I had to evacuate Dubai. Fingers crossed for Obama then!

A straw poll by 7Days, in the lead-up to the election looked a little deeper. They quoted Dubai-based Middle East security expert Dr Theodore Karasik’s analysis:

…Romney’s staff has already come out and claimed that China is an enemy and Russia is an enemy and Venezuela’s an enemy and Iran is an enemy. We could see a lot of America flexing its muscles all over the place and creating a lot of tensions.

With the Obama people, they believe a bit more in the diplomatic process but that diplomatic process, I believe, is also going to take a turn to the right.

And snippets of other views from UAE-resident US-citizens:

Obama voter focused on foreign policy: “I think my biggest concern right now is Iran. I look back at what happened in the Bush era” 

Swinging voter who switched to Romney: “I was prepared to give Obama four years but there is little improving in the economy.”

Reluctant Obama voter: “Myself and several Americans I know are so fed up with the childish antics of both parties that we don’t want to associate ourselves with either and wish there were a viable third party.”

Ohio-registered voter who lacks confidence in Romney: “I can’t trust anyone who hides their tax returns.”

The US Consulate in Dubai estimated there were around 40,000 Americans in the UAE, but the number who voted was unknown because ballots were sent directly to individual state offices.