Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah has been relieved of his post and Labor Minister Adel Fakeih has been named acting health minister, a Royal Decree said on Monday.
“Dr. Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Rabeeah has been relieved of his position as health minister and named adviser at the Royal Court with the rank of a minister,” said the decree issued by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.
“Adel bin Mohammed Fakeih has been advised to do the job of health minister in addition to his current job as labor minister,” the decree added.
No reasons have been given for the removal of Al-Rabeeah, but some Saudi bloggers indicated that it might be in response to complaints made by citizens, especially after the rising cases of MERS.
The toll rose to 78 on Monday with the death of three more patients in Jeddah, Najran and Madinah, the Health Ministry said, adding that the virus has infected 244 people.
The Cabinet, however, expressed satisfaction over the ministry’s efforts to control the deadly virus in coordination with WHO and other specialized international bodies.
Dr. Khaled Mirghalani, spokesman of the ministry, emphasized the Kingdom’s ability to deal with infectious diseases during the Haj and Umrah seasons. “We have got accumulated experience and we have taken all precautions to control the virus,” he told Arab News.
Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi political analyst and general manager of Al-Arab news channel, said: “We don’t know the exact reason for Dr. Al-Rabeeah’s removal. It may be the increasing number of MERS deaths or his failure to carry out some hospital projects.”
Praising Al-Rabeeah’s efforts to introduce a health insurance scheme for Saudis, Khashoggi told Arab News: “Handling the Health Ministry is one of the toughest jobs in Saudi Arabia. Many ministers have lost their jobs in the past.”
Stressing the need to expand private health services, he said: “Al-Rabeeah prepared the scheme but could not implement it. I hope the new minister would focus on this scheme.”