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.

FASTFACTS

• 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 artist with a disability blows minds with his paintings

Ahmed Hakeem’s paintings were displayed at Markaz Al-Oun Bazaar. (Supplied)
Ahmed Hakeem’s paintings were displayed at Markaz Al-Oun Bazaar. (Supplied)
Updated 07 August 2022

Saudi artist with a disability blows minds with his paintings

Ahmed Hakeem’s paintings were displayed at Markaz Al-Oun Bazaar. (Supplied)
  • Ahmed Hakeem’s love of creativity helps him to forget the difficulties he faces to draw some amazing art pieces
  • Hakeem has not let his disability be an impediment to what he likes doing, which is painting

RIYADH: With joy, Ahmed Hakeem holds his brush, starts picking vibrant colors, and then he paints cubic and abstract shapes on an empty canvas.

Hakeem is a 34-year-old Saudi artist who has a mild intellectual disability. Individuals with mild ID are slower in all areas of conceptual development and social and daily living skills.

But Hakeem’s love of art helps him to forget the difficulties he faces as a person with a disability to draw some amazing art pieces. He has not let his disability be an impediment to what he likes doing, which is painting.

Not only that he is good at painting, but he is also an athlete. He is a good swimmer, he plays basketball, he loves running, he has won bronze and silver medals in sports.

He is also good at ping pong, padel, hiking, and loves animals.

During the pandemic, Hakeem unleashed his creative side and started to learn to paint. He enrolled in classes, and he started drawing abstract and cubic art.

FASTFACTS

• Hakeem is a 34-year- old Saudi artist who has a mild intellectual disability. Individuals with mild ID are slower in all areas of conceptual development and social and daily living skills.

• He has not let his disability be an impediment to what he likes doing, which is painting.

• He is also an athlete. He is a good swimmer, he plays basketball, he loves running, he has won bronze and silver medals in sports.

His paintings were displayed at Markaz Al-Oun Bazaar, which is a help center and non-profit organization that helps people with intellectual disabilities, and he wants to have his own gallery in the future.

Hakeem, who works at Juffali Heavy Equipment as an assistant, also talked about how hard it is for people with disabilities to find a good job.

“You need to know about the challenges that I am having with the community in general. Most people with disabilities are usually unemployed and don’t have access to powerful governmental aid, but their families have to enroll them in special clubs, and this can be financially stressful to the parents, so there is a lack of community and activities for us,” Hakeem told Arab News.

Nour Hakeem, his sister, said: “Because Hakeem looks normal and is not in a wheelchair, many places we go, they see him as a normal person, and every time we go out, I have to have proof that he is mentally challenged, which is very hard.”

“Even though the plane’s tickets are more expensive than the economy ticket and the discount they give us isn’t that much, so basically we book him a normal economy ticket but hopefully with time this is going to change soon because there is more attention by the authorities on people with disabilities,” she said.

According to APD, the official association of people with disabilities, the percentage of people with disabilities in the Kingdom is 7.1 percent, or 1,445,723 people out of a population 32.94 million. The association is set to organize its efforts and build an integrated institutional system to remove barriers to people with disabilities and empower them to live in society without discrimination.

 


King Fahd National Library exhibits rare Qur’ans

King Fahd National Library exhibits rare Qur’ans. (SPA)
King Fahd National Library exhibits rare Qur’ans. (SPA)
Updated 07 August 2022

King Fahd National Library exhibits rare Qur’ans

King Fahd National Library exhibits rare Qur’ans. (SPA)
  • The King Fahd National Library recently added to its collection Chinese books donated by the National Library of China

RIYADH: The King Fahd National Library has opened an exhibition of rare Arabic manuscripts, including medieval copies of the Qur’an, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
The library’s Secretary-General Dr. Mansour bin Abdullah Al-Zamil launched the opening, which includes books printed prior to the Kingdom’s unification during the reign of King Abdulaziz.
Saleh Al-Aboudi, director of the library’s Anecdotes and Collections Department, gave a presentation explaining the exhibition’s contents, which boasts Qur’ans dating back to the third century AH as well as local manuscripts, miniatures, antiquities, inscriptions, and other Arab and Saudi publications.
The King Fahd National Library recently added to its collection Chinese books donated by the National Library of China.
The books — covering subjects including history, economy, tourism and culture — are distributed in Arabic and English. They include literature related to China, including books on the Chinese language and children’s books, which serve as an opportunity for Saudis to get to know the country and its culture.

 


Makkah governor receives US consul general in Jeddah

Makkah governor Prince Khaled Al-Faisal receives US Consul General Faris Asad in Jeddah. (Supplied)
Makkah governor Prince Khaled Al-Faisal receives US Consul General Faris Asad in Jeddah. (Supplied)
Updated 07 August 2022

Makkah governor receives US consul general in Jeddah

Makkah governor Prince Khaled Al-Faisal receives US Consul General Faris Asad in Jeddah. (Supplied)
  • Faris’ other past assignments include assistant information officer in Amman, Jordan, and public diplomacy officer with a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mosul, Iraq

MAKKAH: Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal received US Consul General Faris Asad in Jeddah on Sunday.
They discussed topics of common interest. Asad also concurrently serves as the US representative to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, headquartered in Jeddah. He joined the US Department of State in 2004 as a foreign service officer.
Most recently, Faris served as political chief at the US Embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan from 2018-2020.
Faris’ other past assignments include assistant information officer in Amman, Jordan, and public diplomacy officer with a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mosul, Iraq.

 


 


Saudi aid agency inaugurates 2nd phase of free eye surgery projects in Yemen

KSrelief inaugurates 2nd phase of free eye surgery projects in Yemen. (SPA)
KSrelief inaugurates 2nd phase of free eye surgery projects in Yemen. (SPA)
Updated 07 August 2022

Saudi aid agency inaugurates 2nd phase of free eye surgery projects in Yemen

KSrelief inaugurates 2nd phase of free eye surgery projects in Yemen. (SPA)
  • The Noor Saudi program aims to perform 6,000 specialized eye surgeries over the course of the year

ADEN: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center launched on Friday the second phase of its project to provide free eye surgeries, part of the Noor Saudi program, which will be implemented in the governorates of Aden and Mukalla, Yemen.
Director of the KSrelief office in Aden Saleh Al-Thibani said that the campaign aims to combat blindness and assist patients who cannot afford the costs of treatment.
The Noor Saudi program aims to perform 6,000 specialized eye surgeries over the course of the year, which will be implemented following a series of projects to cover as many patients in need of eye operations as possible.
Each project, Al-Thibani explained, consists of performing 400 operations, in addition to providing necessary medicines and eyeglasses.
Undersecretary of the Yemeni Ministry of Health Dr. Ahmed Al-Kamal expressed appreciation for the center’s continuous support of the Yemeni health sector and its humanitarian work in the country.
KSrelief concluded the volunteer training program in Mukalla on Sunday.  

Around 712 individuals benefitted from the program that focused on providing first aid for bicycle accident victims, common injuries, life  psychological first aid, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation training among others. 

 


2-year afforestation campaign launched in Saudi Arabia’s Asir

Saudi Arabia launches afforestation campaign in Asir. (SPA)
Saudi Arabia launches afforestation campaign in Asir. (SPA)
Updated 07 August 2022

2-year afforestation campaign launched in Saudi Arabia’s Asir

Saudi Arabia launches afforestation campaign in Asir. (SPA)
  • Saudi Arabia launched the Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives with the goal of planting 50 billion trees, reducing carbon emissions by more than 10 percent of global contributions

ABHA: The Saudi National Center for Vegetation Cover and Combating Desertification recently announced the launch of a two-year project aimed at rehabilitating fire-affected sites in the forests of Al-Jarrah Park in the Asir region.

The afforestation plan will see more than 160,000 trees and local plant species planted.

The project aims to boost the vegetation cover inside Al-Jarrah Park. The nature of the soil and geological features of the site will be tested in order to choose the most appropriate plan for rehabilitation.  

The center also aims to combat fire in different regions of the Kingdom and oversee the management of pasture lands, forests and national parks, which will boost sustainable development and enhance the quality of life.

Saudi Arabia launched the Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives with the goal of planting 50 billion trees, reducing carbon emissions by more than 10 percent of global contributions.

The initiatives are part of the Kingdom’s endeavors to strengthen regional and international partnerships with a view to overcoming environmental challenges, protecting the planet and combating climate change.