Abu Dhabi: Dr. Farida Al Hosani is a household name in the United Arab Emirates. His clear and supportive messages over the past few years have guided and reassured residents as the world grapples with one of its toughest health care challenges to date.
It is therefore more than fitting that on the occasion of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, she underlined that women and girls never need to feel coerced.
“The only thing women and girls in the UAE need to invest in is their passion. Here in the UAE, they are in luck. They have all the support from the community and our young girls are especially lucky as they also have all the support from the government,” said Dr Al Hosani, Executive Director of Infectious Diseases at the Abu Dhabi Public Health Center ( ADPHC) and official spokesperson for the UAE health sector, told Gulf News.
The public health official has had a long and illustrious journey in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) herself, but it started off as a much steeper road. She recalls that she was among 40 women chosen to join medicine as a field of study in the early 1990s, at one of the only higher education institutions in the United Arab Emirates that had a medical school at the era – the University of the United Arab Emirates.
“At the time, it was not common for women in the United Arab Emirates to go into medicine. And even though my immediate family was always supportive, I remember they had to convince extended family members, who feared this was not the right area for women. At the time, most women worked in education, but my family supported me and believed in me,” recalls Dr Al Hosani.
Serve the community
She was, however, determined to want to study medicine. “I remember attending a funeral as a young girl when a woman passed out there. No one knew what to do to help her. And although I always loved math and biology at school, this incident strengthened my resolve to study medicine and one day be able to use science to help people,” Dr Al Hosani explained.
Support you can feel
The accomplished infectious disease specialist said she found enthusiastic support from her teachers and later university faculty members. Looking back, she particularly cherishes her graduation in 1996.
“It was so inspiring. We had the chance to meet Her Highness Shaikh Fatima bint Mubarak, Mother of the Nation, and we felt so special as graduate doctors. In fact, we even had the chance to lend the Hippocratic oath in his presence. I had tears in my eyes!” said Dr. Al Hosani.
Since then, Dr. Al Hosani has racked up one accolade after another while working in Abu Dhabi’s healthcare sector. Urging the emirate to take a stronger stance against infectious diseases by promoting vaccination, awareness and prevention, its efforts have been at the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents have come to know her as one of the United Arab Emirates’ trusted public health officials guiding them through the many precautionary measures that have helped keep the community safe. And for many young women, her leadership has become an inspiration.
Dr Al Hosani said today’s young girls should feel encouraged to choose the career they are thinking of, especially since the Emirati community will fully support them. “[Thinking that a woman’s place is at home] is a [archaic] way of thinking. It may still persist in a few places, but in the UAE, women are encouraged to participate in all sectors. There are no limits to the choices they wish to make,” she added.
Lots of opportunities
“I was lucky enough to join a government innovation program from Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences and Cambridge University. It helped me to see that every challenge we face We were faced with a solution and we just had to invest time and effort to reach that solution. This means that there is great potential in the UAE to develop further in technology, research and artificial intelligence. These areas are at the center of government concerns and there are many opportunities to pursue science in the private sector,” the official said.
These opportunities exist not only in the traditional sciences, but also in newer fields. “There are also many emerging fields that are strategically important, such as space, and even sub-specialties within medicine itself, which I would encourage [today’s young girls] to explore,” added Dr Al Hosani.