Saudi Arabia ‘acted, not reacted’ to COVID-19 pandemic, says Dr. Reem bint Mansour Al-Saud

Dr. Reem bint Mansour Al-Saud. (Supplied)
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Updated 16 April 2020

Saudi Arabia ‘acted, not reacted’ to COVID-19 pandemic, says Dr. Reem bint Mansour Al-Saud

  • Dr. Reem: Many social and economic policies have been adopted in Saudi Arabia that allow women to be agents of change and self-empowerment
  • The Ministry of Health is stepping up efforts in testing and in the provision of treatments for those in need, says Dr. Reem

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia handled the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic from the get-go, taking timely and cautious measures to ensure the safety of citizens, residents and illegal migrants alike.

“Saudi Arabia acted, not reacted, to the pandemic,” said Dr. Reem bint Mansour Al-Saud, member of the Kingdom’s permanent delegation to the UN in New York.

While quarantining in New York due to her responsibilities in the UN, Dr. Reem bint Mansour Al-Saud spoke to Arab News about COVID-19 and the way Saudi Arabia has addressed the crisis.

“There were combined efforts from multiple government entities to test, treat and contain — all essential elements in coping with pandemics,” Dr Reem said.

“The Ministry of Health is stepping up efforts in testing and in the provision of treatments for those in need. Provinces and municipalities are doing their part to contain the spread of the virus while also providing basic needs,” she added.

“The Ministry of Finance is pumping funds to boost the economy and support local businesses.” 

She said that the Kingdom has several policies in place that fulfill its commitments towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in the healthcare sector.

The third SDG stipulates the promotion of well-being for all by ensuring universal health coverage, financial risk protection and access to essential health services.

“The Kingdom already provides free healthcare for all its citizens, which is an important element in a strong healthcare infrastructure, necessary to weather this pandemic,” Dr. Reem said. “Moreover, the gender gap in the sector is minimal, ensuring that everyone has equal access to proper health care.”

Saudi Arabia has co-sponsored a UN General Assembly resolution recently adopted by all member states.

“In the spirit of multilateralism, Saudi Arabia has donated $10 million to the World Health Organization to step up international support, in addition to leading the G20 combined pledge of $5 trillion,” Dr Reem said.

BIO

Dr. Reem bint Mansour Al-Saud holds a master’s degree in social policy and a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern studies, both from Oxford University. 

She is a post-doctoral research fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government to work on enhancing Saudi labor policies, especially those concerned with women.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first health crisis that Saudi Arabia has had to contend with. In 2012, the Kingdom saw the outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

“A strong healthcare infrastructure and the implementation of a strict code of conduct guidelines are essential to contain the virus,” Dr. Reem said. “Lessons were learned from the MERS outbreak, as well as how to manage millions of pilgrims during hajj and umrah, where the prevalence of respiratory illnesses ranges between 50-90 percent of pilgrims. This is why strict measures had to be taken to contain this virus as well.” 

Dr. Reem works at the Saudi UN mission as a Sustainable Development Expert. In 2015, she negotiated the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development on behalf of Saudi Arabia when it was adopted in 2015.

Saudi Arabia’s agenda includes 17 SDGs, including social, economic and environmental goals “meant to eliminate poverty and build resilient societies to create a more prosperous planet.”

The importance of such an agenda is becoming ever more prevalent as member states work collectively to support the containment and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Reem highlighted the important role of women, who comprise the majority of caregivers, in combating the global crisis in healthcare and social sectors.

“Women and men around the world are working at the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19. But women represent 70 percent of the workforce in healthcare and social sectors, according to the WHO,” Dr Reem said. “The majority of caregivers are women. They are more at risk of infection yet they are putting their lives on the line to save us.”

She explained that the global informal economy is “dominated” by women.

“This means that women are less likely have access to healthcare and a stable income to sustain a decent living standard. They are thus more at risk from the virus in several ways. Recovering economically from this pandemic may take more time for women in this sector. So, they are disproportionally disadvantaged by crises,” Dr Reem said.

“The health gender gap in Saudi Arabia is minimal, fortunately. Everyone has equal access to healthcare. This is why it is important to have resilient infrastructures that support the livelihood of all people and allow them to bounce back.”

Dr. Reem said that empowerment comes when there are enabling environments that support individual autonomy and development, which eventually lead to collective development.

Empowerment, she explained, cannot be fully realized without the space for autonomous growth that is not contingent on other individuals, but rather on systems and infrastructures that enable it.

“To think that empowerment is granted from one individual to another is the essence of disempowerment because it inherently means that there is a personal hierarchal dependency,” Dr. Reem said.

She added: “In line with Vision 2030, many social and economic policies have been adopted in Saudi Arabia that allow women to be agents of change and self-empowerment, including equal work opportunities and pay, driving and travel. One cannot underestimate the value that women bring to the workforce to foster sustainable economic growth.”


‘American Sharqawia’: US Consul General Rachna Korhonen bids Saudi Arabia farewell

Updated 09 July 2020

‘American Sharqawia’: US Consul General Rachna Korhonen bids Saudi Arabia farewell

  • "There’s some magic in the water of the desert," says Korhonen

JEDDAH: As she reaches the end of her second mission in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, US Consul General Rachna Korhonen will soon be heading home, taking memories to last a lifetime.
Known for her love for culture and the Arabic language and for her vast knowledge of the region, Korhonen became well known as a constant supporter of Saudi women and youth in the region, participating in numerous cultural and social events in the Eastern Province and across the Kingdom.
After two more weeks in the Kingdom, Korhonen will return to the US capital to serve as the executive director of the Bureau of Near East Affairs (NEA) and the Bureau of South Central Asian Affairs (SCA) at the US State Department which supports the posts in the region, including Saudi Arabia, thus continuing her connection with the Kingdom.
With 14 years of experience as a US diplomat, she served 3 years in Riyadh in 2010, and then came back to serve as the consul general in Dhahran in August 2017. “I would say Riyadh was the start of my relationship with Saudi Arabia, and Dhahran and the Eastern Province is the culmination of the relationship,” said Korhonen told Arab News on a video call. She almost feels herself Sharqawia, a resident of the Eastern Province, Sharqia.
“Ana Sharqawia (‘I am a Sharqawia). The measure of any place is the people, it’s not about the place, it’s really about the people.”
As consul general, her role was to build relations and promote the interests of her home in the country where she was posted. Korhonen went the extra mile, she joined in the region’s celebrations and understood its traditions and culture.


Recalling her time in the Eastern Province, she said: “I’ve been getting to know Sharqawis, the people who live and work here, who have made this their home in the years since Aramco started or were born in Al-Ahsa. I think anyone who comes to the Eastern Province falls in love,” she said.
“The biggest reason I’ve gotten to enjoy myself here is (because) it has quite a bit of America here. I think it’s difficult to realize how much America exists in Saudi Arabia until you come to the Eastern Province,” she added.
As the drilling for oil began in 1935 with the help of the California Arabian Standard Oil Company (CASOC), which later became Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s oil capital has been home to thousands of Americans over the past 85 years, who have had a major influence on the region.
“Aramco is definitely a reminder of home, and you put that in with the people, the hospitality, the normal way of being Saudi which is to welcome your guests no matter who they are. You put those things together, you get the best of the United States and you get the best of Saudi Arabia.”
A native of New Jersey and big baseball fan, her love for the game didn’t stop her from supporting the Al-Ettifaq Football Club in Dammam, attending matches and singing their anthem.
Her trips to Al-Ahsa, a place she calls the most beautiful place in the Kingdom, allowed her to discover the region’s vast experiences.
Her appreciation of Al-Ahsa goes deep. Both the scenery and the hospitality of the people make it her favorite city — she even took Ambassador John Abizaid on a trip there in February.
“As you drive towards Al-Ahsa, you can see the sand changing color, from a bright yellow to a reddish color,” she said. “You start seeing the desert turning green, which is amazing to me. I’m a mountain and forest type of person and I can tell you that I now like the desert too, it’s beautiful.”
The uniqueness of Al-Ahsa called out to Korhonen and she recalls her first visit to the region in 2017. “The history, the people, the food, the culture, is very different from any place I’ve been to in Saudi Arabia, Hasawis (people of Al-Ahsa) are lovely. I think there’s some magic in the water of the desert,” she said.
Korhonen developed an interest in regional cultural events, visiting local markets picking out sheep for Eid, learning about the Saudi love for falconry and participating in the traditional celebratory dance of Al-Arda. She even has a Diwaniya, a parlor where guests are received, at her home.

When she returned to the Kingdom in 2017, Korhonen noticed the transformation of the Kingdom, noting that Vision 2030 has been the instigator for this noticeable change.
“The changes have been tremendous, I think Vision2030 is really going to really bring Saudi Arabia onto the world stage. I think some parts are already there. In the energy sector, Saudi Arabia has always been a leader,” she said. “I’m betting you right now that you’re going to see Saudi women, you’re going to see Saudi men, you’re going to see Saudi kids, Saudi art, culture and music, the traditional Saudi things, all starting to show up on the world stage.”
As the Kingdom heads towards diversifying its economy, Korhonen anticipates that the world will begin seeing more Saudi entrepreneurs with innovative ventures, as education is key. She noted that with the continuous flow of Saudi students on scholarships in the US, their return to the Kingdom will help bring forth a new business-like mindset with partnerships between the two countries that will help the Kingdom’s economy to flourish.
“It’s coming,” she noted. “I’ve seen some of the (US) businesses here, but I haven’t seen enough yet and I’d like to see more of that in the next 2-5 years, because Vision 2030 will be a success if we can get entrepreneurs to start businesses and hire more Saudis,” she added. “That to me is the key and that is what you should be bringing back from the US.”
As the end of her mission draws near, it's safe to say that we'll be seeing Korhonen back in the Kingdom in the near future.
“I’ll honestly come back because of the people, because of the friendships I’ve made here.”