WHO endorses Saudi steps to check coronavirus; death toll at 15



RIYADH: MD RASOOLDEEN

Published — Monday 13 May 2013

Last update 21 May 2013 6:25 am

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A visiting World Health Official has said other countries can learn from the experience of Saudi Arabia in fighting the coronavirus, which has killed 15 people in the kingdom so far.
Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general of the WHO’s Health Security and Environment, said the kingdom has taken the coronavirus situation seriously and its Ministry of Health has initiated public health action, including intensifying surveillance, initiating investigations and research and putting preventive measures in place.
“One of the reasons why more cases have been identified in KSA may be because they have gone ahead to strengthen their surveillance system, lab capacity and network,” he said in a joint press conference with Saudi health officials in Riyadh on Sunday.
Upon invitation from the kingdom, a team of health experts arrived in the country on Friday to assess the status of the spread of the virus in the country. The visiting team included two WHO officials, Fukuda and Dr. Jawad, quarantine director of communicable diseases of the WHO in Cairo. The other international scientists are Dr. Connie Savor Price, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Denver Health Medical Center and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Denver; Trish Burrell, consultant, infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University; Paul Tambaiah, consultant infectious diseases the University of Singapore; and Allison Mack Qier of Mount Toronto Hospital.
On Saturday, the team visited the health facilities in Hofuf and the hospital, where a number of infected cases were treated.
During the press briefing on Sunday, Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah said that since last September, the kingdom diagnosed 24 virus infected patients, of whom 9 died. He corrected previous reports that the virus attack was confined to Al-Ahsa province, and said there were incidences in Jeddah, Dammam and Riyadh.
“We will continue to cooperate with the WHO and other international organizations in the fight against infectious diseases for the betterment of the nation,” he stressed.
Fukuda said the new virus posed an “important and major challenge” for countries affected and the world generally.
 “The greatest global concern, however, is about the potential for this new virus to spread. Of most concern, however, is the fact that the different clusters seen in multiple countries increasingly support the hypothesis that when there is close contact this novel coronavirus can transmit from person-to-person,” he said.
“This pattern of person-to-person transmission has remained limited to some small clusters, and so far, there is no evidence that this virus has the capacity to sustain generalized transmission in communities.
Fukuda said they have seen, in their visit to Saudi Arabia, the importance of better surveillance. "When new cases are found, as is likely, it is critical for countries to report these cases and related information urgently to the WHO as required by international health regulations because this is the basis for effective international alertness, preparedness and response,” he said.
“Countries also need to assess their level of preparedness and readiness if this virus should spread and intensify the core capacities identified in the international health regulations if they are not adequate. The WHO is ready to assist countries in this region and globally in these tasks,” he said.

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