Skip to main content

Dubai begins training 'man's best friend' to sniff out coronavirus cases

Modelled after programmes already in trials abroad, Dubai's police force hopes K9 detection may be next breakthrough in testing
Dogs have helped in detecting medical conditions from malaria to cancer, Parkinson's, epilepsy and diabetes (AFP/file photo)

Access to testing for the novel coronavirus has been a nightmare for countries around the world, but police in Dubai are looking at a new approach to detect positive cases of the virus known as Covid-19: sniffer dogs.

To combat the lack of testing accessibility, police in the emirate have turned to their K9 forces, initiating a new training programme modelled after one in the UK that is teaching dogs how to sniff out the virus in people. 

'In principle, we're sure that dogs could detect Covid-19'

-Dr. Claire Guest, CEO of Medical Detection Dogs

It is not the first time humans have looked to dogs for help in detecting medical conditions, from malaria to cancer, Parkinson's, epilepsy and diabetes. For decades, dogs have lent humans their keen sense of smell to identify those in need of medical attention. 

In fact, some research has shown that dogs are able to detect the odour of malaria infection with a level of accuracy "above the World Health Organisation (WHO) standards for a diagnostic". 

Dubai's Major Salah Khalifa Fadil al-Mazroui announced Dubai's plans to employ its K9 police force for coronavirus detection, emphasising that the move is modelled after other similar initiatives being set up abroad. 

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


'Fast, effective and non-invasive'

The UK's Medical Detection Dogs charity, for example, has partnered with Durham University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, planning trials to train dogs to detect the coronavirus. 

Coronavirus: Tunisia deploys robots to enforce lockdown
Read More »

Dr Claire Guest, head of the UK charity, told the BBC that the trials were seeking to find out how to train dogs to "safely catch the odour of the virus from patients".

"In principle, we're sure that dogs could detect Covid-19," she said.

At first, scientists were unsure if animals could contract or spread the new virus, but WHO announced last month that dogs were unable to transmit the disease. 

If successful, K9 detection researchers hope the dogs can be used to screen even those with no symptoms, which the US's Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week said may account for up to 25 percent of all cases. 

Experts agree that fast, accurate and widespread testing will be key to curbing the pandemic. 

"This would be fast, effective and non-invasive and make sure the limited NHS testing resources are only used where they are really needed," Guest said, as quoted by the BBC.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.