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UAE's customs, HCT use canines in world-first COVID-19 detection study
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 14 - 12 - 2020

The Federal Customs Authority (FCA) and the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) have successfully undertaken a world-first study into deploying trained dogs for the detection of COVID-19.
Under the academic and professional agreement, the parties conducted the first, world-class scientific study to detect the presence of the coronavirus, through the use of customs K9 sniffer dogs.
A joint task force was formed, consisting of experts, researchers and specialists representing HCT and the K9 Unit of the FCA.
The three-phase study, conducted by a joint scientific team from the two organizations, revealed the high rate of accuracy of dogs from the Customs' K9 Unit in detecting coronavirus-infected patients, from a sample of 1,000 participants at COVID-19 screening centers, within two seconds.
The final results showed a 98 percent correlation between the PCR test results and the detections by the Customs' K9 dogs.
Ali Saeed Mattar Al Nayadi, commissioner of Customs and chairman of the FCA, said the success of the scientific joint study reflects the Authority's keenness to play an effective role in the protection of society and the enhancement of security and stability.
He added the study also highlighted the Authority's aim to implement the UAE leadership's directives in confronting the effects and implications during the COVID-19 pandemic, in line with the UAE Vision 2021 and UAE Centennial 2071, the aim of which is to establish a safe and prosperous society on the medical, social and economic fronts.
He said this international scientific achievement reinforces the pioneering role of the UAE in addressing the COVID-19 crisis and its ability to deploy all its scientific, executive and human resources and capabilities to protect society and ensure a safer future in preparation for the next 50 years.
He stressed that this achievement will pave the way for future use of K9 sniffer dogs in addressing the risks and effects of natural and health disasters; and in detecting viruses, narcotics and hazardous materials.
He pointed out that using K9 sniffer dogs to detect coronavirus will save effort and time and reduce the pressure for frontline heroes, such as medical cadre and hospitals by 98%, in addition to ensuring budget cost-effectiveness by saving millions of dirhams that can otherwise be used in vital sectors, such as infrastructure, healthcare, education, and security.
He praised HCT as a unique model of collaboration between educational institutions, and various executive and regulatory bodies in the UAE, which reflects the innovation culture embedded in the UAE's educational institutions.
He further praised the efficient performance of the K9 Unit of the FCA, led by Abdul Salam Al Shamsi, director of the K9 Unit, and supervised by Ahmed Abdulla Bin Lahej, managing director of Customs Affairs Sector, for the constructive cooperation with the HCT team, in order to achieve this scientific achievement, despite the dangers of the spread of coronavirus during training and study.
Dr. Abdullatif Al Shamsi, HCT president & CEO, congratulated the scientific team of experts, researchers, and specialists conducting the study, headed by Prof. Mohammed Hag Ali. He further praised the cooperation between the HCT, the Federal Customs Authority, and the Customs K9 Unit.
"The study was conducted in three phases and confirmed the high accuracy of customs K9 sniffer dogs in diagnosing and detecting COVID-19 patients within two seconds," he said.
He said this collaboration highlighted the importance of this applied scientific study, which was based on international methods and criteria.
"It will support the UAE's endeavors in confronting the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring the protection of individuals and society by taking preventive measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus, and also by providing scientific studies and effective solutions in support of global efforts," Dr. Al Shamsi said.
He said the first phase of the research included training of the sniffer dogs by the Federal Customs Authority's K9 Unit for high speed sampling from the armpits of presumed cases.
The training was performed on over 500 samples based on international practices. During the second phase, or K9 test, samples were sniffed out by the dogs without coming in contact with the people, followed by a PCR test on the same participants.
The third phase included comparison of results between the dogs' sniffing within two seconds and the PCR results performed in medical laboratories.
Dr. Al Shamsi added that the statistical analysis of the study findings proved the high accuracy of Customs K9 sniffer dogs in diagnosing and detecting COVID-19 patients within two seconds.
"More than 98 percent of the samples that did not contain the virus were disqualified, which meant that PCR tests were performed for only 2 percent of the screening center visitors. This key scientific achievement will save efforts and funds and reduce the pressure of the medical cadre and screening center visitors," he said.
Dr. Al Shamsi noted that successful collaboration with the Federal Customs Authority reflected HCT's applied research competencies, which has been given top priority over the past few years, particularly due to the high interest in examining and solving real-life problems and challenges.
The study will be proposed for publication in a renowned international peer-reviewed scientific periodical. — WAM

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