Javid Hassan, Arab News Staff
Friday 4 April 2003
Last Update 4 April 2003 12:00 am
RIYADH, 4 April 2003 — The Ministry of Health has set up training programs and provided diagnostic kits for its hospitals staff near the Saudi-Iraqi border areas as part of the ministry’s emergency plan in the event of biological or chemical terrorism. Dr. Amin Mishkhas, director of infectious diseases at the ministry, told Arab News there are three ministry hospitals each in Arar and Al-Jouf in the Northern Province and two in Hafr Al-Baten.
The program is being implemented in coordination with the directorate of civil defense, the nodal point for handling emergencies. “We don’t expect any attack of biological or chemical terrorism. Even so, we have to be prepared for any emergency,” said Dr. Amin.
The official also announced that his ministry has prepared a GIS (geographic information service) map showing the distribution of infectious diseases in the Kingdom. Based on state-of-the-art satellite technology, it can help healthcare planners and providers identify vulnerable areas and direct their efforts accordingly.
As part of measures against biological or chemical attacks, Dr. Amin said the ministry distributed medical literature enabling paramedical staff to identify and diagnose various forms of terrorism, such as bio-terrorism (anthrax, smallpox) or bacterial infection, or chemical weapons (nerve gas, cyanide, Sarin nerve gas), uranium (responsible for cancer of the blood) or chlorine (which burns the skin and causes respiratory problems).
The ministry has also supplied vaccines against smallpox and trained staff in the use of antibiotics against anthrax. “Besides the civil defense directorate, we are also coordinating with Saudi Arabian Airlines to enhance their state of preparedness at airports in the border areas,” Dr. Amin said. The diagnostic kit tells staff how to treat victims. The manual also advises people in case of a chemical attack not to touch the container and report it to the nearest civil defense office.