2 more deaths from MERS virus

Updated 25 April 2014

2 more deaths from MERS virus

RIYADH: Two more patients who had been infected with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus have died, the Ministry of Health said on Thursday.
The ministry said the new cases from the SARS-related coronavirus were reported in Riyadh, Jeddah and the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.
The deaths bring to 83 the number of people who have died in the kingdom since contracting the virus in September 2012. The kingdom has recorded a total of 285 confirmed cases.
On Monday, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah removed the country’s health minister following a recent spike in MERS cases.
Health Minister Abdullah Al-Rabeeah was relieved of his post on Tuesday and replaced by Labor Minister Adel Fakeih in a concurrent capacity.
Saudi Arabia has seen a jump in MERS infections in recent weeks, with many of the new cases recorded in Jeddah.
Nonetheless, officials are saying the outbreak is not an epidemic.
Abdullah Mirghalani, assistant deputy Haj minister, had been quoted as saying the Health Ministry had not declared the situation an emergency.
On a positive note, a Saudi businessman claimed that Bioven, a vaccine developed by an American professor using enzymes derived from poisonous snakes, could be used to treat MERS.
Turki bin Manie, an agent for a foreign medical company, said he would discuss the possibility with health ministry officials.
MERS emerged in the Middle East in 2012 and is from the same family as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, which killed around 800 people worldwide after first appearing in China in 2002.
MERS can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia.
Although the worldwide number of MERS infections is relatively small, the more than 40 percent death rate among confirmed cases and the spread of the virus beyond the Middle East is keeping scientists and public health officials on alert.

• Additional reporting by the Associated Press


Prevention is key to containing MERS


Prevention is key to containing MERS

On Facebook, Filipino workers based in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle East countries have started posting messages about the dreaded Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus, a sure sign that the disease is causing jitters among the expatriate workforce in the region.
Is there a cure? How does one get it? What are the symptoms? These are some of the basic questions asked in social media threads and the lack of authoritative answers raises a reader’s anxiety levels even more.
The best preventive tool would be a government health hot line that can dispense basic information about MERS in a variety of languages. All diplomatic posts should also receive a proper briefing with basic instructions that they can give out to their nationals in their respective languages.
Here in the Philippines, it was reported that a male nurse from the UAE tested positive for MERS virus, and health authorities in Dubai immediately informed the Philippine side about such findings. Later, the nurse tested negative for the virus thus leading the country to heave a collective sigh of relief.
But the erroneous news raised a couple of serious questions — if the male nurse indeed tested positive while in UAE, how come he was allowed to leave the airport? It also raised questions about the virus itself — can one manifest symptoms of the virus and test positive for it and then lose it a day or two later? Indeed, this respiratory ailment is still the subject of professional medical scrutiny and hopefully, the world would be getting more specific answers soon.
In Saudi Arabia, MERS coronavirus has so far claimed 75 lives out of 244 infected individuals. This incidence is fairly low and most of the transmissions appear to involve patient-to-medic encounters, hence the desire of Saudi health authorities not to cause undue panic over it. Access to information through authoritative channels may yet be the best tool to deal with the growing public interest into the prevalence of the disease.
“It is important that families, friends and members of their local communities fully understand all that must be known about the MERS coronavirus,” Philippine Health Secretary Enrique Ona told a news conference. The concern of the Philippine government is quite understandable — the Middle East is home to more than a million Filipino overseas workers. The Philippine government has to make sure that workers about to leave for the Middle East are informed about health risks including, but not limited to, MERS-CoV.
By arming our own workers with such information, they’d be able to promote better hygiene among their peers. Like all respiratory ailments, basic prevention measures include constant washing of hands, covering one’s mouth with a tissue when sneezing and immediately throwing that tissue away and avoiding close contact with sick people.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) has not declared MERS-CoV as an epidemic, it is vital that all countries cooperate in preventing its spread. Information is key especially among expat workers in the Middle East, some of whom may be too timid or frightened to approach medical authorities for help.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women driving

Updated 24 June 2018

Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women driving

  • They start their engines and hit the roads throughout the Kingdom
  • End of driving ban is crowning achievement so far of Saudi Vision 2030

Women throughout Saudi Arabia waited for the stroke of midnight, turned the keys in the ignition, fired up their engines — and hit the road to a bright new future.

It was the moment they had waited for since King Salman issued the royal decree on September 26, 2017, to lift the driving ban on women. 

Just after midnight on Saturday and in the first minutes of Sunday, Samah Algosaibi grabbed the keys to her family’s 1959 Corvette C1 and drove out of the driveway of her beach house in Khobar.
“We are witnessing history in the making as we look toward the dawn of a promising future,” said Algosaibi, the first female board member of Ahmad Hamad Algosaibi & Bros.

“As a businesswoman in Saudi Arabia, I am grateful for the women’s empowerment movement taking place. Today, I am honored to be sitting behind the wheel of change.”

Another woman to hit the road after midnight was Lina Almaeena, a member of the Saudi Shoura Council. “It feels very liberating,” she said about driving her mother’s Lexus.
Almaeena, also the co-founder and director of Jeddah United Sports Co, had exchanged her UAE license for a Saudi one. 

“I am thrilled!” Sarah Alwassia, 35, a nutritionist in Jeddah, told Arab News. “I learnt how to drive 18 years ago in the States where I got my driving license. I can’t believe that the day to drive in my own home town has come.”

Alwassia obtained her first American license when she was 18 years old in 2000, and had it exchanged for a Saudi license on June 6 in Jeddah. She explained that she is a mother, and this change provided comfort for her and her family. It also comes with various benefits, such as taking quick action in emergencies, and economic benefits such as saving money instead of paying for a driver when she needs to run errands. 

“I will be driving my kids to school and picking them up in comfort and privacy,” she said.

Women in the Kingdom commented on how this event is changing the course of their lives. “Independence is a huge thing for me,” Alwassia said. “Driving is one small part of it. I am very optimistic of the change that our loving country has made.”  

Alwassia applauds the efforts the country has made to support women. “I am confident that driving in the beginning will be pleasant, since our country has made all of the effort to support women and to protect them.
“I think our society was looking forward for this change, and I am sure the majority will adapt fast.

“I feel safe, our country did everything to make this transition pleasant and safe for every woman behind the wheel. I am really thankful to witness this historic moment and I am so happy for all the women in Saudi Arabia, especially my daughters.”
Sahar Nasief, 64, a retired lecturer from the European languages and Literature Department at King Abdulaziz University, said: “Nothing could describe my feelings. I can't wait to get on the road.”
Nasief received a very special gift from Ford for this occasion.

“They gave me a 2018 Expedition to drive for three days, a Mustang California Special,” she told Arab News.

Nasief obtained her Saudi license on June 7. She also holds a British license and two American licenses. “Now, I have my national license too,” she said. 

She also said the lifting of the ban provided a sense of relief. “I feel that I can practice one of my rights, and I don't have to live at the mercy of my driver any more.”
Society has been demanding such a change for years, “as it will take the physical and economic burden off most men.”
Pointing to the anti-harassment law, Nasief said: “I feel very confident especially after announcing the strict harassment law.”
Joumana Mattar, 36, a Jordanian interior designer, exchanged her Jordanian driver’s license and obtained a Saudi one on June 11. 

“I had my Jordanian license since I was 18 years old, and the moment I heard about the opening of exchanging foreign licenses, I immediately booked an appointment,” she said.
Mattar said she looks forward to the change in so many ways. “I'm finally in control of my time, schedule and privacy.” 

Mattar said she is both confident and anxious about the event. “I'm anxious only for feeling that I'm part of a huge first step for women driving in the Kingdom, but I'm confident also because of the support that I'm getting from my husband and family.
“Every first step is the hardest. Society is facing a huge change, but I'm positive because this change is done and supported by the government and Vision 2030.”

Mattar said she feels secure now. “I'm in control of any case I'm facing.”

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