Expo 2020 Dubai spotlights unsung heroes of COVID-19 at opening day of Health & Wellness Week

Expo 2020 Dubai spotlights unsung heroes of COVID-19 at opening day of Health & Wellness Week

DUBAI, 27 January 2022 – The opening day of Expo 2020 Dubai’s Health & Wellness Week (27 January-2 February) showcased a range of inspiring first-hand accounts from some of world’s unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic, from a doctor helping to eradicate polio in tandem with the pandemic, to a nurse rescuing newborns immediately after the 2020 Beirut explosion.

From health and sanitation workers to teachers, parents and artists, the Expo 2020-led hybrid event at Terra – The Sustainability Pavilion – celebrated everyday acts and ‘unsung’ heroic gestures that have kept our societies moving forward, spotlighting inspiring stories, giving gratitude and ultimately inspiring future generosity.

Dr Ujala Nayyar of the World Health Organization (WHO), serving as part of the PEI (Polio Eradication Initiative) in Punjab, spoke on the role of women working on the frontlines to distribute routine vaccinations in resource-limited areas. She touched on her work to help eradicate the life-threatening disease, as the South Asian country simultaneously battled COVID-19.

Dr Ujala Nayyar said: “Pakistan for the first time has completed one year polio-free. So if we can do this, we can go for the next five years as well. I see eradication after the next five years for sure.”

Health & Wellness Week, held at Expo 2020 Dubai in association with the Mohammed bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences and the WHO, is exploring the relationship between mental and physical wellness, alongside the role of quality access to health care and technology in reaching the last mile and building healthy societies.

Celebrating Unsung Heroes, hosted by senior journalist Jessy El Murr, also spotlighted Emirati documentary photographer Noura Al Neyadi, who presented her Eyes & Stories project – immersing the audience in her experiences documenting 148 frontline workers in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi across three weeks during the height of the pandemic.

Noting the universal use of masks, Noura Al Neyadi said: “To me eyes are a symbol of beauty. Not only that, they tell you the status of a person, their mental health. Are they happy, worried, determined, strong? Do they need help? This is the first thing you spot if someone needs help.”

Pamela Zeinoun, a nurse from St George Hospital in Beirut, joined proceedings virtually. Photographs of her cradling three babies – all healthy today – went viral following the devastating Beirut explosion in August 2020.

Pamela Zeinoun said: “As a healthcare provider that day, I did my best to keep the babies alive and refused to leave them. It was my duty as a nurse to walk a few extra miles and to [protect life]. I wish my story could inspire you – many people from around the world – to stay strong and to never give up.”

In her closing remarks, Dr Maha Barakat, Director General of the UAE’s Frontline Heroes Office, said: “If [smallpox] had not been eradicated, remember these [were] all the efforts of frontline workers, 40 million people would have died … if we didn’t do all our efforts to try to control and eliminate malaria, we’d have [had] over 7.6 million people – mostly children – die in the last decade. All of these were prevented.

“Five-point-six million people have died of COVID-19 in the last two years. Imagine if we didn’t have frontline workers supporting in hospitals, getting health systems as strong as possible and administering the almost 10 billion doses of COVID vaccine. Imagine what that grim figure would have been.”

Dairo Vargas, a Colombian-born contemporary artist and founder of The Art Listens, shared his compelling journey of using art to raise awareness around mental health, while the event also heard from Carla Cochrane, Regional Research Coordinator at the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba, part of a pandemic response that prioritised support to indigenous communities in the Canadian province.

PianistElenora Borisova also explained her use of music to boost morale and alleviate stress for doctors, nurses and patients at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital, before serenading the audience with her composition Music of Hope.

Elsewhere at Expo 2020 Dubai site, the spectacular Al Wasl Plaza was lit up in blue as a special thank you to frontline workers and the faces of healthcare and essential workers were displayed across the dome in a salute to those who put their lives on the frontline every day to save lives.

Health & Wellness Week is one of 10 Theme Weeks held under the Expo 2020’s Programme for People and Planet, offering an exchange of inspiring new perspectives to address the greatest challenges and opportunities of our time.


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