After COVID-19, Saudi Arabia set to turn its attention to an older scourge: viral hepatitis

The WHO says 4.5 million deaths could be prevented in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 through vaccination, testing, medicines and education. (AFP)
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The WHO says 4.5 million deaths could be prevented in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 through vaccination, testing, medicines and education. (AFP)
After COVID-19, Saudi Arabia set to turn its attention to an older scourge: viral hepatitis
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The WHO says 4.5 million deaths could be prevented in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 through vaccination, testing, medicines and education. (AFP)
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Updated 31 July 2021

After COVID-19, Saudi Arabia set to turn its attention to an older scourge: viral hepatitis

The WHO says 4.5 million deaths could be prevented in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 through vaccination, testing, medicines and education. (AFP)
  • To mark World Hepatitis Day on July 28, health professionals are calling for action against the “silent killer”
  • Dr. Faisal Aba Alkhail of King Faisal Specialist Hospital says the Kingdom will need to resume efforts to eliminate Hepatitis B and C

DUBAI: Before the coronavirus swept the planet in early 2020, Saudi Arabia was on course to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. But as in the rest of the world, the task of fighting COVID-19 in the Kingdom was understandably given precedence over efforts to defeat what is often called the “silent killer.”

Hepatitis fits the description because 95 percent of infected individuals worldwide are unaware of their infection and in most cases people are asymptomatic. It nevertheless remains the world’s seventh-leading cause of death.
The illness is an inflammation of the liver that can cause a range of health problems and can be fatal, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). There are five main strains of the virus, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E.
While all cause liver disease, the five strains differ in important ways, including modes of transmission, severity of the illness, geographical distribution and prevention methods.

In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer. An estimated 325 million people worldwide live with hep-B or C and, for most, testing and treatment remains beyond reach.
In 2015, viral hepatitis caused 1.34 million deaths worldwide, mostly from hep-B infection, which is higher than the number of global deaths caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Some types of hepatitis are preventable through vaccination. According to the WHO, “an estimated 4.5 million premature deaths could be prevented in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 through vaccination, diagnostic tests, medicines and education campaigns.”
July 28 is World Hepatitis Day. The date was chosen to coincide with the birthday of Nobel prize-winning scientist Dr. Baruch Blumberg, who discovered hep-B virus and developed a diagnostic test and vaccine.

FASTFACT

July28

World Hepatitis Day is observed each year on this date to raise awareness about the virus that causes liver disease and hepatocellular cancer.

With COVID-19 vaccination efforts continuing apace and the pandemic beginning to subside in many parts of the developed world, the fight against viral hepatitis is once again high on Saudi Arabia’s public health agenda.
“The Saudi Ministry of Health instituted a specific program to fight hepatitis C in the country before the pandemic, in accordance with the WHO,” Dr. Faisal Aba Alkhail, a consultant transplant hepatologist at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, told Arab News.


“But then COVID-19 came and disrupted many initiatives. The battle against COVID-19 had to be the priority.”
In 2016, the WHO Global Health Sector Strategy issued a road map for the elimination of viral hepatitis as a public health problem by 2030.
The plan entailed a 90 percent reduction in infections and a 65 percent reduction in mortality by the end of the decade, compared to a 2015 baseline that showed 257 million people living with hepatitis B, 71 million with hepatitis C, and 36.7 million with HIV.
“As Saudi Arabia gains control over COVID-19, it’s time to revisit the initiatives and campaigns to eliminate viral hepatitis B and C with full force to meet the WHO target of elimination by 2030 in our country,” Aba Alkhail said.
Hepatitis B is spread through contact with the blood, semen and other body fluids of an infected individual, but can be prevented through vaccination.
Hepatitis C is also blood-borne, but varies in its severity, in some cases lasting only a few months while at other times developing into a lifelong illness. It is a major cause of liver cancer, with sufferers often requiring liver transplantation. There is currently no vaccine.
In the 1980s, Saudi Arabia had one of the highest rates of hep-B infection in the world, with an estimated 8.3 percent of the population infected.
Then, in 1989, the Kingdom became the first country in the Middle East to launch a hep-B vaccination program, eight years after the first vaccine was approved for use in the US. By 1990, the vaccine was available to all infants from birth and children were routinely vaccinated when they started school.
While the vaccination of children and infants has been associated with a notable decline in the rate of infection in Saudi Arabia, falling to just 1.3 percent according to the Saudi Journal of Gastroenterology, hepatitis remains a major public health risk in the Kingdom, especially among high-risk groups, including those with HIV, drug addictions and those who have undergone blood transfusions.


In 2007, the Saudi Ministry of Health ranked hepatitis the second most common reportable viral disease in the country, with almost 9,000 new cases diagnosed that year alone. Of these, 52 percent had hepatitis B, 32 percent hepatitis C, and 16 percent hepatitis A.
In Saudi Arabia, hepatitis B and C remain a major cause of hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of primary liver cancer, and diseases that require liver transplantation. The infection rate may have dropped, but morbidity and mortality related to the disease have not shown a parallel decline.

 

It’s time to revisit the initiatives and campaigns to eliminate viral hepatitis B and C with full force.

Dr. Faisal Aba Alkhail - Consultant transplant hepatologist at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh

Medical experts expect the burden of associated liver diseases to rise in the coming years, owing to aging in infected populations.




Dr. Faisal Aba Alkhail

Saudi Arabia has implemented a number of programs designed to improve diagnosis, including premarital screening for hepatitis B and C and HIV. “In Saudi Arabia you can’t complete marriage documents without doing the test for hep-B and hep-C,” Aba Alkhail said.
“In addition, the Kingdom follows the standard special population screening of dialysis patients, blood bank donors, hospital-based patients and other high-risk groups.”
Crucially, it has also made hepatitis screening and treatments free to all citizens and residents, both Saudi and non-Saudi.
“In Saudi Arabia, we are (trying our best to follow) the WHO targets: To diagnose 90 percent of infections and treat 80 percent of high viral-load patients by 2030, as well as diagnose and treat all infected patients by 2022,” said Aba Alkhail.


“Most known cases have been rated and cured since effective treatments were made available in 2014. Many countries are running out of new hepatitis C patients to treat, according to the World Hepatitis Alliance.
“Saudi Arabia still has the burden of hepatitis C patients that are not yet diagnosed and there is a need for a screening program to detect previously undiagnosed cases.”
Medical professionals set out a list of recommendations in a May 2021 report, titled “Revealing Hepatitis B Virus as a Silent Killer: A Call-to-Action for Saudi Arabia,” published in the Cureus Journal of Medical Science.
“In 2016, hep-B caused 1,700 annual deaths (i.e. five deaths per day) in KSA,” the report said. “Although substantial improvements have been made in hep-B management, a lot remains to be done for hep-B screening and care pathways.
“Considering the current hep-B estimates in KSA, the country is expected to achieve the WHO hep-B 2030 target goals for diagnosis, treatment and mortality by 2051.
“The current scenario in KSA demands the implementation of a structured policy framework to combat and eliminate hep-B.”
The report’s authors said the Kingdom could curb the virus by “establishing a national-level registry, implementing screening campaigns, improving linkage of care between primary care physicians (PCPs) and specialists, and increasing PCP education and awareness.”
However, the report said that in order for these measures to have the desired effect on transmission rates, they must be adhered to consistently and simultaneously throughout the Kingdom.
“We have already come so far since the 1990s. Saudi Arabia had a problem in the past with hepatitis, but the vaccine has greatly improved its prevalence in the Kingdom,” said Aba Alkhail.
“The challenge now is finding the undiagnosed cases and treating them effectively so that we can win this battle.”

Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor

Decoder

Hepatitis

● The illness is an inflammation of the liver that can cause a range of health problems and can be fatal, according to the World Health Organization. There are five main strains of the virus, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E.


Saudi cabinet welcomes leaders ahead of Saudi and Middle East green initiative summits

The Council of Ministers holds its weekly meeting, chaired by King Salman remotely from NEOM on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (SPA)
The Council of Ministers holds its weekly meeting, chaired by King Salman remotely from NEOM on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (SPA)
Updated 19 October 2021

Saudi cabinet welcomes leaders ahead of Saudi and Middle East green initiative summits

The Council of Ministers holds its weekly meeting, chaired by King Salman remotely from NEOM on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (SPA)
  • The Cabinet hailed the government’s success and efforts in confronting the COVID-19 pandemic

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet on Tuesday welcomed world leaders, representatives and participants ahead of two environmental conferences that the Kingdom is set to host this week.
Saudi Arabia will host the inaugural Saudi Green Initiative Forum and the Middle East Green Initiative Summit in the capital, Riyadh, from Oct. 23 to 25.
The two initiatives were announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in March and aim to reduce carbon emissions by 60 percent in the region and plant 50 billion trees in the world’s biggest afforestation project.
The Council of Ministers made the statement during its weekly meeting, chaired by King Salman remotely from NEOM.
At the beginning of the session, the king briefed the Cabinet on the content of a letter he had received from Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, regarding the strong and solid relations that bind the two countries and peoples and ways to support and strengthen them in all fields.
The ministers reviewed the meetings and discussions that took place between the Kingdom and a number of countries over the last few days, to enhance aspects of joint and multilateral cooperation at various levels, and work to intensify coordination on regional and international issues.
Acting Minister of Media Essam bin Saad bin Saeed said that the Council of Ministers addressed the Kingdom’s statement during a G20 meeting held last week, of its interest in reforming the global economic system through the “Riyadh Initiative on the Future of the World Trade Organization,” which was approved by G20 leaders last year.
Ministers also stressed the Kingdom’s commitment “to continue supporting its business to achieve strong, sustainable, balanced and comprehensive growth that creates a prosperous and promising future for the region and the world.”
The Cabinet hailed the government’s success and efforts in confronting the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and limiting its effects on all aspects of life, due to the strict proactive and precautionary measures, the efficiency of the health sector, and the rapid progress in the immunization campaign, with almost 45 million doses administered throughout the Kingdom to date.
The Cabinet authorized the foreign minister to sign a cooperation agreement with Honduras, and the information minister and chairman of the Radio and Television Authority to sign a cooperation agreement with Vietnam.
Ministers also approved a memorandum of understanding between the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission and the Sudanese Communications and Postal Regulatory Authority in the field of communications, information technology and post.


Saudi Arabia’s King Salman receives letter from Bahraini counterpart on bilateral relations

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with Bahrain’s ambassador to the Kingdom Sheikh Hamoud bin Abdullah in Riyadh on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (SPA)
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with Bahrain’s ambassador to the Kingdom Sheikh Hamoud bin Abdullah in Riyadh on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (SPA)
Updated 19 October 2021

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman receives letter from Bahraini counterpart on bilateral relations

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with Bahrain’s ambassador to the Kingdom Sheikh Hamoud bin Abdullah in Riyadh on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (SPA)
  • King Salman sends a letter to president of South Sudan regarding bilateral relations and ways to develop them in all fields

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Tuesday received a written message from his Bahraini counterpart King Hamad, regarding the strong and solid relations that bind the two countries and peoples, and ways to support and strengthen them in various fields and at all levels.
The message was received by Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, during a meeting with Bahrain’s ambassador to the Kingdom Sheikh Hamoud bin Abdullah.
During the meeting, they discussed bilateral relations and exchanged views on regional and international issues of common interest.
Meanwhile, King Salman sent a letter to Salva Kiir, president of South Sudan, regarding bilateral relations and ways to support and develop them in all fields.
The message was delivered by the Saudi ambassador to Sudan and non-resident ambassador to South Sudan, Ali bin Hassan Jaafar, during a meeting with Kiir at the presidential palace in the capital, Juba.
The president praised relations with the Kingdom, stressing his keenness to strengthen and develop them. He also praised the Kingdom’s role and its regional and international influence and initiatives.


UN delegation briefed on Saudi agency’s reconstruction work in Yemen

UN delegation briefed on Saudi agency’s reconstruction work in Yemen
Updated 19 October 2021

UN delegation briefed on Saudi agency’s reconstruction work in Yemen

UN delegation briefed on Saudi agency’s reconstruction work in Yemen
  • SDRPY has undertaken more than 204 projects and initiatives in numerous Yemeni governorates

RIYADH: Mohammed Al-Jaber, general supervisor of the Saudi Development and Reconstruction Program for Yemen (SDRPY), met a high-profile delegation from the UN International Organization for Migration.

The IOM team included Christa Rottensteiner, chief of the organization’s mission for Yemen; Firas Budeiri, the mission’s senior coordinator in Yemen; and Fawzi Al-Zyoud, director of the IOM’s office in Saudi Arabia.

The meeting took place at the SDRPY’s headquarters in Riyadh and began with a presentation on the program which to date has undertaken more than 204 projects and initiatives in numerous Yemeni governorates.

The schemes have been concentrated in the health, education, water, agriculture, fisheries, and transportation sectors, helping to build the capacities of government institutions and development programs.


Saudi Arabia records 2 COVID-19 deaths, 49 new cases

Saudi Arabia records 2 COVID-19 deaths, 49 new cases
Updated 19 October 2021

Saudi Arabia records 2 COVID-19 deaths, 49 new cases

Saudi Arabia records 2 COVID-19 deaths, 49 new cases
  • Health ministry says 38 patients have recovered from the virus in the last 24 hours
  • Ministry of Commerce records 742 violations against precautionary measures in past two weeks

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia confirmed two new COVID-19 related deaths on Tuesday, raising the total number of fatalities to 8,767.
The Ministry of Health confirmed 49 new cases reported in the Kingdom in the previous 24 hours, meaning 548,018 people have now contracted the disease. Of the total number of cases, 90 remain in critical condition.
According to the ministry, the highest number of cases were recorded in the capital Riyadh with 16, followed by Jeddah with nine, Jubail with three, and Makkah and Al-Darb confirmed two cases each.
The health ministry also announced that 38 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 537,037.
Over 44.8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered since the Kingdom’s immunization campaign started. More than 20.8 million people have been fully vaccinated.


Health ministry spokesman Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly praised the active role of the community in complying to the precautionary measures, which has led to a significant decrease in the number of critical cases and new daily infections throughout the Kingdom.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Commerce said it carried out 46,887 inspection visits during the past two weeks, to ensure that commercial establishments were adhering to coronavirus preventative measures. Authorities recorded 742 violations.
A fine of up to SR100,000 ($26,660) is imposed on first time offenders and the fine is doubled for repeat offenders and the facility risks closure.
Saudi municipalities have also ramped up efforts to monitor compliance with health and safety measures.
The municipality of the Eastern Province carried out 1,340 inspection tours of commercial centers and facilities on Monday, and found 78 businesses in violation of the precautionary measures.
Officials have also called on the public to report any suspected health breaches by phoning the 940 call center number or contacting authorities through the Balady app.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected over 242 million people globally and the death toll has reached around 4.92 million.


Saudi interior ministry’s high-tech revolution draws crowds at Dubai’s GITEX

Saudi interior ministry’s high-tech revolution draws crowds at Dubai’s GITEX
Updated 19 October 2021

Saudi interior ministry’s high-tech revolution draws crowds at Dubai’s GITEX

Saudi interior ministry’s high-tech revolution draws crowds at Dubai’s GITEX
  • Saudi pavilions have managed to steal the limelight, receiving the largest turnout of visitors and specialists in the field of technology and smart solutions
  • The ministry’s pavilion is showcasing a revolution in digital transformation and smart solutions in the Kingdom thanks to the Absher platform

DUBAI: The Saudi Ministry of Interior is taking part in the Dubai GITEX Technology Week 2021 held at the Dubai World Trade Centre by showcasing a myriad of entities and companies.

Saudi pavilions have managed to steal the limelight, receiving the largest turnout of visitors and specialists in the field of technology and smart solutions.

The ministry’s pavilion is showcasing a revolution in digital transformation and smart solutions in the Kingdom thanks to the Absher platform.

Eng. Abdullah Al-Rabiah, undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior for security capabilities and chairman of the supervisory committee of the Ministry’s pavilion at the exhibition, said that the ministry is taking part in the event for the seventh time.

This year’s slogan is “Technical Solutions for a Safe Homeland,” and the exhibition is focusing on a unified platform featuring various security and service authorities in the ministry through five main axes, he added.

The topics covered are: Digital enablers and their role in governance to serve customers, ministry services for pilgrims, dealing with events, crises and work procedures, the future of services and security operations, and the role of modern technology in combating crime and making cities safer.

The technology behind the Absher app is also showcased. The mobile service allows people in the Kingdom to use a variety of government services. The app helps ministry staff manage resources and digitally implement internal procedures and support services for employees.

The ministry’s role in preserving the environment and its initiatives in the field of innovation are also being highlighted at the pavilion, with topics and issues presented in interactive ways, introducing visitors to the efforts and achievements of participating sectors.

Al-Rabiah said that the Saudi government has invested in the Ministry of Interior to improve the quality of services provided in light of Saudi Vision 2030.

“Other projects launched under the umbrella of Vision 2030 include the Unified Security Operations Center 911 project, the Midan application, which has witnessed a big deal of digital transformation, as well as the services provided by the Absher platform, one of the largest government platforms in the Kingdom offering 333 services to some 23 million users and beneficiaries,” he added.

The Vision Realization Office in the Ministry of Interior submitted a working paper under the theme “The Ministry of Interior within Saudi Vision 2030” at the Leaders Vision conference held on the sidelines of GITEX Week.

Sultan Al-Mutairi, the head of the Vision Realization Office who submitted the working paper, told Arab News that the research shed light on the ministry’s efforts under the Quality of Life and Doyof Al-Rahman programs, in addition to the contributions of the ministry within Saudi Vision 2030, including the development of e-government and rollout of high-quality services to pilgrims.

“The paper also highlighted the Kingdom’s progress in international security indicators and the contribution of the Ministry of Interior to a number of initiatives and future projects within the Kingdom’s Vision 2030,” said Al-Mutairi.

Col. Adel Al-Asmari, director of the Unified Security Operations Center 911 project in Riyadh, said that the center not only highlighted technical shifts in receiving and passing security communications, but also its efforts in managing crises and disasters through a specialized section comprising all security, service and emergency sectors, which enables it to manage any crises — such as the COVID-19 pandemic — professionally and comprehensively.

The Saudi Export Development Authority is also taking part in GITEX Technology Week 2021 with the participation of more than 26 Saudi ICT companies.

It comes under the umbrella of the “Made in Saudi Arabia” program, a national initiative of the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program, which aims to increase domestic consumption and the market share of domestic goods and services, increase Saudi non-oil exports in priority export markets and enhance the attractiveness of the Saudi industrial sector to domestic and foreign investment.

The Saudi Technology and Security Comprehensive Control Co. Ltd. (Tahakom) is also taking part through a package of advanced technical programs and solutions. Tahakom’s pavilion showcases its capabilities in public safety and intelligent mobility by introducing new products and innovative technologies, such as smart city solutions, smart parking solutions, traffic safety software technologies as well as supercomputers.

The exhibition saw also the participation of various Saudi service agencies and companies, including the Sakani program, one of the most prominent technical programs launched in the Kingdom, which offers numerous technical solutions to beneficiaries and people seeking housing.