Health experts put Hajj season monkeypox concerns into perspective

Health experts put Hajj season monkeypox concerns into perspective
The symptoms of monkeypox include a distinctive rash, which the Saudi Ministry of Health says it is prepared to manage should any cases arise during Hajj. (AFP)
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Updated 05 July 2022

Health experts put Hajj season monkeypox concerns into perspective

Health experts put Hajj season monkeypox concerns into perspective
  • Still-unknown routes of transmission and virus’ rapid rate of mutation are a cause for global concern
  • Total number of Hajj pilgrims limited to about 1 million because “pandemic still exists, not over yet”

DUBAI: As Saudi Arabia prepares to receive up to 1 million Hajj pilgrims from around the world for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the shadow of a new virus looms over the horizon, raising the inevitable question of whether monkeypox will be the next global health crisis.

Thus far, more than 5,700 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 52 countries, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Europe accounts for nearly 90 percent of all confirmed and reported cases worldwide since mid-May. As of this week, 31 countries in the continent have reported at least one monkeypox case. A handful of cases have been identified in the Middle East, mainly in the UAE.

The World Health Organization has ruled that the spread of monkeypox does not yet qualify as a global health emergency. However, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director general, has voiced concern over the rapidly evolving threat.

Up to 1 million Hajj pilgrims from around the world will partake in religious rites this year. (SPA)

Experts are divided on whether the jump in the number of monkeypox cases worldwide from 800 to 3,500 during June is a sufficient cause for alarm.

Smallpox, which belongs to the same family of viruses as monkeypox, was eradicated in the 1980s through mass vaccination. Some scientists believe monkeypox is spreading because of the human population’s diminishing protection from smallpox.

Others believe climate change is a likely culprit behind the spread of the virus as the space between human communities and animal habitats shrinks.

Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, has suggested that as the planet deals with rising levels of ecological fragility and climate stress, both animal and human behaviors are being affected.

Citing recent findings, researchers at the US National Institutes of Health have said that the monkeypox virus strain has mutated 12 times more than expected since 2018.

The current strain is said to be circulating at an abnormally rapid speed, which could change its regular contamination patterns.

Under the circumstances, how afraid should the Arab world be of the monkeypox virus?

The unprecedented increase in cases is concerning, but the threat can be controlled, says Dr. Abdullah Algaissi, a virologist and assistant professor at the college of medical sciences at Jazan University, Saudi Arabia.

Noting that it is still not clear whether monkeypox is an airborne virus or not, he told Arab News: “While the main route of infection is sexual contact or contact with blisters or rashes of infected persons, there is evidence suggesting that monkeypox can be transmitted through the respiratory system.”

What is known for sure is that close and extended contact with an infected person must take place for contamination to occur.

For the same reasons, according to Dr. Gregory Poland, an infectious diseases expert and director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic, monkeypox should not be a significant concern during the upcoming Hajj season.

While those who live with or have close contact with infected persons are at a higher risk of the disease, increased risk of infection during Hajj is “unlikely,” he told Arab News.

Dr. Gregory Poland, an infectious diseases expert and director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic. (Supplied)

“Monkeypox is a rare but dangerous infection similar to the now eradicated smallpox virus, but it is nowhere near as transmissible and has a very low fatality rate if treated properly and promptly.”

Signs of monkeypox infection, according to Dr. Algassi, include skin lesions such as blisters around the genitals, hands, legs, face and arms, fever and swelling of the lymph nodes. The symptoms are more severe for immunocompromised individuals, he said, but “rarely fatal.”

Dr. Algassi explained that the first outbreak was reported in monkeys in 1958, before it became clear that rodents were the source of the infection.

“The monkeypox virus is a zoonotic virus that is usually transmitted from animal hosts to humans or even other animals and belongs to a larger family called pox viruses,” he said.

The first human case of monkeypox was diagnosed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970, and quickly became endemic in several African countries. However, the disease has rarely spread outside Africa.

A monkeypox virion obtained from a clinical sample associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. (AFP)

A health protocol issued by the Saudi Ministry of Health last month requires pilgrims flying in from Nigeria to complete a monkeypox declaration form 24 hours before departure.

The ministry earlier said it was fully prepared to monitor and deal with any monkeypox cases, and that no cases had been recorded in the Kingdom so far.

All necessary medical and laboratory tests were available in the Kingdom, the ministry said, adding that it issued guidelines to healthcare workers on the matter. The ministry also said it had a complete preventive and curative healthcare plan to deal with any cases.

With regard to COVID-19, the ministry has announced an approved list of vaccines along with the requisite doses for each inoculation. It has also provided plans for managing any cases that emerge during the Hajj season by providing tents for the isolation of infected pilgrims.


• Saudia has dedicated a fleet of 14 aircraft for pilgrims.

• More than 268 international flights from and to 15 stations.

• 32 domestic flights to and from six stations.

• 107,000 International and 12,800 domestic seats in total.

• Pilgrims are flown to King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah or Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Madinah.

Appearing this week on “Frankly Speaking,” the flagship weekly current affairs talk show of Arab News, Hisham Saeed, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister of Hajj and Umrah services and official spokesman, said that despite the new threat of monkeypox, “we are ready to handle any case, any scenario.”

A 30,000-strong medical team of doctors and nurses, as well as over 185 hospitals in the Kingdom and more than 100 medical centers in the holy sites of Mina, Arafat and Madinah, will be ready to treat pilgrims suffering from any illness, according to Saeed.

He said although more pilgrims will be allowed this year than in the past two years, the total number will still be limited on account of health concerns.

Dr. Abdullah Algaissi, a virologist and assistant professor at the college of medical sciences at Jazan University. (Supplied)

“This year we have a decision to go for 1 million, because the pandemic still exists, it’s not over yet, and we are not running the full capacity for this year,” Saeed said.

Indeed, according to Dr. Poland, unlike monkeypox, COVID-19 continues to be a threat in huge crowds and gatherings. “This is the much larger issue as immunization rates are likely to be low or variable and amassing large numbers of such individuals together over days represents a risk and threat,” he told Arab News.

Echoing the same concern, Dr. Algaissi cited the emergence of new variants such as the omicron sub-variant, BA.5, which gives COVID-19 an “evolutionary advantage,” adding that these variants could get introduced from one country to another through travel.

Having said that, he noted that “most of the world is now vaccinated, which provides a primary layer of protection, especially against severe infection or death.”

Health measures are part of the Kingdom’s broader preparations for Hajj, which includes monitoring at the Saudi National Center for Security Operations. (AP)

Dr. Algaissi further pointed to the strict precautionary protocols adopted by the health authorities in Saudi Arabia as key in managing any potential outbreaks during the Hajj season.

Apart from being fully vaccinated, wearing masks in the holy sites and practicing basic hygiene precautions are essential during Hajj.

“Most importantly, if a pilgrim feels any respiratory symptoms during Hajj, they should strictly follow these instructions and avoid contacting others to stop spreading the infection,” Dr. Algaissi said.

Avoiding “skin-to-skin contact with others” will also help reduce chances of the spread of monkeypox.

Saudi woman criminology graduate trains with US police

Saudi woman criminology graduate trains with US police
Updated 15 sec ago

Saudi woman criminology graduate trains with US police

Saudi woman criminology graduate trains with US police
  • Alaa Al-Hamad spent a year with Indiana State department
  • Author of book on crime committed to Kingdom’s justice system

MAKKAH: A Saudi criminology graduate who spent a year training with the Indiana State Police in the US plans to use her expertise to tackle perpetrators in the country.

Alaa Al-Hamad said her alma mater, Indiana University, nominated her to undergo training with the state’s police department, after fulfilling criteria which included having no criminal record and excelling academically.

During her stint with the Indiana State Police, Al-Hamad dealt with a wide range of criminal activities including murder and theft. She also worked on a high number of suicide cases. She learned to shoot guns and handle German Shepherd dogs in the department’s K9 unit.

Speaking to Arab News, Al-Hamad said that the “experience was enriching” as she would accompany the police following 911 calls and conduct investigations.

Al-Hamad received a scholarship to study computer engineering at Indiana University after completing high school in 2017.

However, she did not enjoy computer engineering, and later “decided to major in criminal justice following the advice of one of her teachers.”

She said it was her ability to “analyze and reach conclusions” that led to her changing course in her studies. She graduated with distinction from the institution.

Al-Hamad has also authored a book titled “Another Kind of Crime” in which she writes about a variety of offenses, including those involving “emotional” abuse.

She said emotional crimes “are deeper” than physical ones, having long-lasting effects on victims, with perpetrators often causing harm unwittingly.

Al-Hamad urged Saudi women to take up studies in the field because there was a great need for committed and educated individuals to work in the criminal justice system.

She said crimes related to drug abuse was a scourge in society, and added that awareness programs should be launched at schools and universities to highlight the “devastating negative effects” it has on society, families and individuals.

KSrelief, OIC to provide food aid to Afghanistan

KSrelief, OIC to provide food aid to Afghanistan
Updated 11 min 24 sec ago

KSrelief, OIC to provide food aid to Afghanistan

KSrelief, OIC to provide food aid to Afghanistan

The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center signed an agreement on Tuesday with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to provide food aid to Afghanistan, which would help alleviate the effects of poverty and natural disasters.

The pact was signed by Ahmed bin Ali Al-Baiz, KSrelief’s assistant general supervisor of operations and programs, and Mohammed Saeed Al-Ayyash, director general of the OIC mission in Afghanistan, at the center’s headquarters in Riyadh.

Under the agreement, 47,400 food baskets weighing 2,938 tons will be distributed to flood-affected and needy families in 24 Afghan provinces, benefiting 284,400 individuals.

Each basket will weigh 62 kilograms and include flour, rice, beans, dates, vegetable oil and sugar.

KSrelief provides aid to those in need across the world.

Search for Saudi Arabia’s gifted students underway

Search for Saudi Arabia’s gifted students underway
Updated 16 min 28 sec ago

Search for Saudi Arabia’s gifted students underway

Search for Saudi Arabia’s gifted students underway
  • Pupils in grades 3 to 10 targeted in nationwide drive
  • 2,480 students have already registered for aptitude test

A total of 2,480 students have already registered for the 13th edition of the National Project for the Identification of the Gifted, as the annual nationwide drive kicked off on Monday across cities in Saudi Arabia.

The project targets students in grades three to 10, with the closing date for applications on Dec. 15.

The project is organized annually by the King Abdulaziz and his Companions’ Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity, Mawhiba, in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Qiyas Center.

Students can register through their schools or on the Mawhiba website.

All registered students will have to sit for the Mawhiba Multiple Cognitive Aptitude Test, which will be held between Dec. 18 and Jan. 16 next year at the National Center for Assessment centers across the Kingdom.

The MMCAT is available in Arabic and English, and the test results will be announced on March 14, 2023.

Dr. Amal Al-Hazaa, acting secretary-general of Mawhiba, said that more than 466,000 male and female students have taken the aptitude test since the project’s inception in 2011.

Al-Hazaa said the national project seeks to discover, nurture and empower Saudi talent through the strategic partnership between Mawhiba, the Ministry of Education, and the Education and Training Evaluation Commission.

Selected students are given various sponsorships, including for study at prestigious universities abroad, training camps for international competitions in science, research and innovation, and admission to local academic programs.

Riyadh Outlet attracts sneakers collectors at Sneak.Me festival

Riyadh Outlet attracts sneakers collectors at Sneak.Me festival
Updated 30 min 23 sec ago

Riyadh Outlet attracts sneakers collectors at Sneak.Me festival

Riyadh Outlet attracts sneakers collectors at Sneak.Me festival

RIYADH: Sneaker collectors will be thrilled to know that Riyadh Outlet is currently hosting a festival called Sneak.Me.

Exploring the world of casual footwear, their designs and global reach is the focus of the Sneak.Me festival, which runs from Oct. 1–14 and is the first of its kind in the Kingdom, in Al-Rehab district.

In addition to an array of musical performances, the festival offers attendees sneakers in a variety of distinctive and unique designs, a museum, and an auction that will feature a selection of sneakers, rare and expensive collectibles, and limited editions. 

The Sneaker Museum showcases such items as 1998 Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls signed Air Jordan IV fire red sneakers, and Nike MAG Back To The Future sneakers among others. 

Signed Air Jordan IV fire red sneakers. (Supplied)

The first floor of the museum contains the auction area, and the second the collections of famous sneakers obsessives in the Arab world. 

Prince Faisal Al-Saud’s collection, featuring rare Yeezy Nike shoes, is on show, also including 1998 Jordan 6 Batman boots and Sadu Dunk shoes, made by hand from Saudi Sadu fabric. 

The museum contains 200 rare items as well as stores, brands and international designers specializing in custom designs.

Jordan 6 Batman boots. (Supplied)

British brand Matt B Customs, which makes exclusive hand-crafted costume footwear, came from Manchester to participate in the festival. 

“We create handmade custom footwear from branded shoes like Nike, Adidas, Balenciaga, Dior, and we customize them — we change them, paint them, we put new materials on them, and make it super unique. Also we have a website that you can order from,” founder Matt Burgess told Arab News.

Another British brand, Crep Protect, is also on hand to help you clean your shoes.

Aljan, a worker at Crep Protect, said: “This is our first time in Saudi Arabia, and our business is all about shoe cleaning, how to protect the shoe, and how to keep them clean.”

Crep Protect, a British brand. (Supplied)

The festival features a special area set aside for musical performances by local DJs and hip-hop groups.

A basketball court can be found in the sports zone, which also has a cafe with a unique view. It also hosts discussion sessions about sports and the various cultures of sneakers.

The area has many surprises for visitors such as the barber corner, where the Brazilian barber, Stenio, provides the finest grooming along with braids and dreadlocks by his partner Lil’ Boy. 

(Photo by Abdulaziz Al-Noman)

“Young guys love dreadlocks and I think it’s a great idea to have such a shop here for grooming and braiding because it’s special and different and I didn’t see it in Riyadh before, to have a barber shop among the festival and the turnout is crazy,” Lil’ Boy said. 

“This is my first visit to Saudi Arabia, and I’ve decided to stay and work as a barber because I like it here. Riyadh is nice, and the people here are wonderful,” Stenio said. 

A British personal shopper with A list clients, FTP Kicks, is one of the stores that caught people’s attention. (Supplied)

A British personal shopper with A list clients, FTP Kicks, is one of the stores that caught people’s attention.

“Since I’ve been collecting sneakers for 10 years and have a thorough understanding of them, I started this business in 2015, and everything you see here is authentic, sold out, and has a special backstory,” founder Hamza Inayat said.

Celebrities and influencers approach him for the most sought-after sneakers, he continued: “Once, a famous influencer reached out to me to get her a pair of the Travis Scott X Nike SB Dunk Lows in a size 38, and that size is a unicorn size — very hard to find — my client wanted them fast, and I managed to find them and deliver them to her within three days, and that was the hardest request I’ve had.”

Labor market experts: It is vital to anticipate future’s most in-demand jobs

Labor market experts: It is vital to anticipate future’s most in-demand jobs
Updated 26 min 25 sec ago

Labor market experts: It is vital to anticipate future’s most in-demand jobs

Labor market experts: It is vital to anticipate future’s most in-demand jobs
  • Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development approved legislation, initiatives to adapt to changes in the labor market, says deputy minister

RIYADH: Human resources and labor market experts at the Liqaat Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarah Forum 2022 stressed the importance of anticipating the most in-demand jobs in the future.

The forum, organized by the Human Resources Development Fund in cooperation with the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, was inaugurated by Madinah Gov. Prince Faisal bin Salman on Tuesday.

The three-day forum aims to invest in human capital, raise the skills of national cadres, support training programs, employ talented individuals and qualify them to join the labor market. The forum also reviews honorable national models and their success stories and features a job fair.

Deputy Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Dr. Abdullah Abu Thunain indicated that work patterns had changed in most sectors based on developments in the labor market, including the preferences of employers and workers.

“The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development has approved many legislations and launched multiple initiatives to adapt to changes in the labor market…such as platforms specialized in flexible work, remote work and freelance employment,” he said.

“The ministry has established a supply- and demand-anticipating unit that issues indicators regarding required jobs in various business sectors in the future,” he added.

Dr. Abdullah Abu Thunain, Deputy Minister of Human Resources and Social Development for Labor confirmed the ministry's keenness on anticipating the jobs of the future.

Dr. Ahmed Al-Fuhaid, governor of the Technical and Vocational Training Corp., stressed the importance of job researchers focusing on personal skills such as communication, emotional intelligence and innovation, in addition to professional skills related to the nature of work.

“We encourage the private sector to adopt modern trends in the labor market. At the same time, we study the visions of giant enterprises in various business sectors and seek to contribute to the recruitment of national cadres in these sectors,” he said.

Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Sarani, president of Taibah University, stressed that the university seeks to keep pace with the Kingdom’s vision for the education sector and has thus raised the number of admissions into some of the most sought-after disciplines in the labor market.

“The university has developed applied colleges, given that most jobs require specialized diplomas,” Al-Sarani said. 

He emphasized the importance of programs that grant professional degrees: “There are comprehensive studies for all disciplines at the university, and it has already begun to conduct a restructuring of some colleges.”

Specialists in the labor market said it is vital to anticipate the most future in-demand jobs. (Supplied)

Turki Al-Jawini, director-general of the HRDF, said that the fund is working closely with its partners in the private sector, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development and a number of other parties to keep pace with changes in the labor market, discover job opportunities and support the training and qualification of national cadres to avail of these opportunities.

Al-Jawini highlighted the fund’s keenness to support and develop national human capital through many programs and initiatives.

“The fund cooperates closely with universities and the TVTC and has signed about 45 agreements with a training institute, within the framework of the strategic partnerships program, based on start-up training support for employment in the private sector,” he said.