Seeing is believing for these virtual pilgrims

SalaamVR allows injured and hospitalized pilgrims the chance to experience a virtual Makkah. (SyncVR)
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SalaamVR allows injured and hospitalized pilgrims the chance to experience a virtual Makkah. (SyncVR)
Seeing is believing for these virtual pilgrims
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SalaamVR allows injured and hospitalized pilgrims the chance to experience a virtual Makkah. (SyncVR)
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Updated 15 June 2024
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Seeing is believing for these virtual pilgrims

SalaamVR allows injured and hospitalized pilgrims the chance to experience a virtual Makkah. (SyncVR)
  • Dutch medtech firm offers bedbound worshippers a high-tech Hajj experience

RIYADH: Once a year, millions of Muslims from all walks of life make their way to Makkah to perform one of the five pillars of Islam.

The journey can be demanding, with pilgrims spending days walking long distances. Unfortunately, the taxing experience can lead to injury or health problems, and some are unable to complete the pilgrimage.

Last year, SyncVR Medical partnered with King Abdullah Medical Complex in Jeddah to bring their virtual reality application, SalaamVR, to injured and hospitalized pilgrims, allowing them to experience a virtual Makkah. The project is expected to continue in KAMC in Jeddah this year.




SalaamVR allows injured and hospitalized pilgrims the chance to experience a virtual Makkah. (SyncVR)

Floris van der Breggen, CEO of SyncVR Medical, told Arab News: “We work with quite a few different countries, including Germany, UK, Denmark, etc. I think the openness from the people in Saudi Arabia was the most open mindset that I have experienced.

“If someone uses the technology for the first time, they don’t only see the value of what they’re seeing at that moment, but they also see the future.”

Overseen by a nurse, patients using the technology are immersed on the road to Makkah, seeing all the relevant Hajj spots such as Muzdalifa, Mina, Mount Arafat, and the Kaaba, which they witness from sunrise to sunset while surrounded by other virtual pilgrims.

HIGHLIGHTS

• SyncVR Medical was one of many companies that took part in the 2023 HealthTech Innovation Summit and Expo in Riyadh.

• Patients scored SalaamVR tech an average of 8.9 for the extent it enhanced their sense of relaxation and well-being.

The whole trip takes no more than 10 minutes, after which they are offered an opportunity to virtually visit other places in the world, swim with dolphins, or venture into a jungle.  

Pilgrims can receive medical attention, while also enjoying Hajj experience.

When tested on pilgrims who sought medical treatment for extreme fatigue or dehydration, infections, or even sprained ankles, the pilot program’s results were promising.

Of the overall patients’ questionnaire scores, the average was 8.86/10 for how likely they are to use extended reality as a preferred method for pain and stress management in future medical procedures.

Patients also scored the technology an average of 8.9 for the extent of the XR experience to enhance their sense of relaxation and well-being.

SyncVR also facilitates the introduction of virtual and augmented reality in healthcare, with education apps that supplement staff education, surgery and anatomy training, nursing simulation training, and patient education.  

“People are very keen to influence things (here) and are way less conservative than other countries,” van der Breggen said.

“What has been really challenging is the key innovation hurdle, which is that you’ve shown that (the technology) works, everyone has that thirst about it, it can basically be used tomorrow. But then it still needs to come into clinical practice; management needs to accept it. That just takes quite a long time.”

The medtech company was established five years ago with the aim of using virtual reality to enhance social experiences, and broaden the technology’s sphere beyond the video gaming industry.

One of its first projects was designed for cancer patients, using the technology to alter their emotional state while undergoing chemotherapy.

“Of course, these patients are overwhelmed by their cancer, thinking about their life and how to spend it. What we did was provide VR headsets, and it worked so positively there. Instead of patients being completely silent and in a negative state, they were uplifted and started talking to each other and escaped those negative thoughts,” van der Breggen said.

“Their life, however long or short it will be, can be really meaningful, and that’s what a virtual reality experience can bring.”

SyncVR Medical was one of many companies that took part in the 2023 HealthTech Innovation Summit and Expo in Riyadh, where it exhibited an all-in-one application platform to help patients. From hardware to software, the company’s products can help with pain anxiety, stress reduction, rehabilitation, and medical education through immersive simulations.

Originally based in one hospital in the Netherlands, SyncVR Medical now supplies 200 hospitals across Europe with its health technology, and aims to be the largest platform for extended reality healthcare on the continent. The SalaamVR application is the firm’s introduction to the Saudi market.

“This technology, by giving a completely different experience and taking them to a new world, has a primary effect on the brain. That effect is the same in the Netherlands as it is in Saudi Arabia, Canada, Australia or Vietnam. The market (in Saudi) may be a bit smaller, but that’s where we’d have an impact,” van der Breggen said.

 


KSrelief continues medical projects in Jordan and Somalia

KSrelief continues medical projects in Jordan and Somalia
Updated 15 July 2024
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KSrelief continues medical projects in Jordan and Somalia

KSrelief continues medical projects in Jordan and Somalia

RIYADH: Saudi aid agency KSrelief continued its humanitarian aid projects in Jordan and Somalia, reported state news agency SPA on Sunday.
In Jordan, the aid agency provided medical services to 2,271 patients living in Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees. The services ranged from general medicine for adults and children to dental care and vaccinations.
In Somalia, the kidney dialysis center at Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu, supported by the aid agency, served 348 patients last month.
A total of 163 dialysis patients underwent 1,051 scheduled sessions and 12 emergency sessions.
These initiatives are part of the Kingdom’s effort to alleviate suffering to those in need.


Saudi ambassador presents credentials to Egypt’s president

Saleh bin Eid Al-Hosseini presents his credentials as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt. (SPA)
Saleh bin Eid Al-Hosseini presents his credentials as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt. (SPA)
Updated 15 July 2024
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Saudi ambassador presents credentials to Egypt’s president

Saleh bin Eid Al-Hosseini presents his credentials as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt. (SPA)
  • Al-Husseini was warmly welcomed by El-Sisi and wished him well in his role as ambassador

CAIRO: Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt Saleh bin Eid Al-Hosseini presented his credentials to President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo on Sunday, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The ambassador conveyed the greetings of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and their wishes for continued progress and prosperity for the Egyptian people.

Al-Husseini was warmly welcomed by El-Sisi and wished him well in his role as ambassador.

El-Sisi asked the ambassador to extend his greetings to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, wishing them continued prosperity and progress.

 


Zest for life: Disabled Saudi artist finds expression in his work

Rakan Kurdi’s paintings have won acclaim from across the country and abroad. (Supplied)
Rakan Kurdi’s paintings have won acclaim from across the country and abroad. (Supplied)
Updated 14 July 2024
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Zest for life: Disabled Saudi artist finds expression in his work

Rakan Kurdi’s paintings have won acclaim from across the country and abroad. (Supplied)
  • Saudi Rakan Kurdi will not let his genetic condition affect his desire to create

JEDDAH: Meet Rakan Kurdi, a Saudi artist who was born with spinal muscular atrophy and is determined to navigate life, and explore art, on his own terms.

Kurdi’s journey with paints and brushes began at a young age when he joined the Children with Disability Association, a specialized school for people with disabilities in Jeddah.

He is now one of the coastal city’s most popular artists, selling works and winning many prizes.

Rakan Kurdi’s portraits of Saudi royals has earned him viral recognition on social media. (Supplied)

A graphic designer and motivational speaker in addition to his art, Kurdi spoke to Arab News about his life.

An enthusiast from childhood, he was encouraged by his teacher’s words when she told him at the age of 8: “I can see an artist in you. You must work on your talent, learn more at home and keep practicing to develop your skills.”

Speaking about the challenges he faced in school, he said: “My parents decided to enroll me in a regular school in order to associate with regular kids. Unfortunately it did not work right for me because kids at school bullied me and were making fun of me all the time. That’s why I couldn’t pursue my studies.

I am an artist; that’s how I see myself. I don’t want people to like my paintings because of my physical condition.

Rakan Kurdi, Saudi artist

“My greatest strength and source of motivation through all this has been my parents. They never let me feel that I lacked anything.”

After leaving school after the fifth grade, Kurdi dedicated himself to his love for painting, eventually realizing that it was his true calling.

Working from his studio, Kurdi is well on his way to becoming a big name in the region’s art world. (Supplied)

Working from his studio, Kurdi is well on his way to becoming a big name in the region’s art world.

But creating artwork is no easy task for the 32-year-old, who was born with a neuromuscular genetic disorder that left him paralyzed.

However, it has not dampened his creativity. Kurdi has been painting since the age of 8, with his works being showcased in local group exhibitions.

Rakan Kurdi, Saudi artist

He said: “I am an artist; that’s how I see myself. I don’t want people to like my paintings because of my physical condition. I would like to know that my work is self-standing and impressive, regardless of the capabilities of its artist.”

Kurdi continues to live life with an ever-present smile, despite his challenges.

He added: “I have never thought my disability was an obstacle to my dream. Since I stopped going to school, I (have) just continued doing art, participated in various local exhibitions, started to sell my portraits nationally and internationally, and most importantly got married. I am so happy with my life.”

Portraits of King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the late King Faisal bin Abdulaziz, Sheikh Zayed, celebrated Saudi singer Mohammed Abdo, and the late Talal Maddah helped to get Kurdi noticed.

He admits that the biggest project of his career was creating 80 by 110 cm oil paintings of the king and crown prince. His subsequent post on social media received more than 1 million views in less than 19 hours.

He said: “Definitely they are my most expensive and most important portraits.

“I also dedicated a special portrait to Prince Turki bin Salman, who really liked my work and decided to hang it on the wall of the Royal Palace in Jeddah.”

Kurdi’s paintings have won acclaim from across the country and abroad, with commissions ranging from about SR10,000 ($2,666) to SR250,000, depending on the size of the work.

Inspired by the work of Leonardo da Vinci, he said: “We both belong to the same school of art.

“Despite my disability, it’s not difficult to make a realistic painting.”

Social media has proved an important tool to promote his work. He has about 500,000 followers across Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, and says he receives his orders via the platforms.

With many projects in the pipeline, Kurdi’s hands are full.

He is also continuing his work as a motivational speaker, and added: “(I) just want to inspire everyone to identify and follow their dreams, no matter the obstacles.”

Now that his work has earned recognition in the Kingdom and other Gulf Cooperation Council states, Kurdi hopes to showcase his work in London or Paris.

“It is my dream to showcase my work internationally,” he said.

 

 


Women in Tabuk eager to take the reins

Women in Tabuk eager to take the reins
Updated 14 July 2024
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Women in Tabuk eager to take the reins

Women in Tabuk eager to take the reins
  • Al-Talbi is encouraging more women to embrace equestrianism, highlighting benefits that extend beyond physical health and enhance psychological and mental well-being

RIYADH: With the resurgence of equestrian sports in the Kingdom, Saudi women in Tabuk are reconnecting with their heritage and taking the reins with skill and passion.

In a recent interview, equestrian Arwa Al-Talbi spoke to the Saudi Press Agency about the beginnings of her journey into the world of horses.

“My relationship with horses began five years ago when I read about the psychological philosophy of equestrianism, which inspired me to learn to ride,” Al-Talbi said

Saudi Vision 2030 has ushered in a new era for women’s sports, enabling them to pursue various sports, with equestrianism a standout. (SPA)

She said that equestrianism is not just a physical activity, and that there is a spiritual and mental connection inherent in one of the oldest sports known to humanity.

“My journey into the world of horses started thanks to God and the wise leadership’s support for equestrianism and the empowerment of women in various sports,” Al-Talbi added. Her love for horses and skill as a horse rider has led to her becoming an accomplished show jumper and free rider.

She is learning the sport of tent pegging, which is a “test of a rider’s skills due to its historical ties to ancient warfare.”

FASTFACTS

• The Tabuk region is currently hosting a foundation training course for the sport of preliminary tent pegging, organized by the Saudi Equestrian Federation.

• The 15-day course, held at the Al-Thunayanh stable, has attracted about 30 riders of various ages, both male and female.

Al-Talbi is encouraging more women to embrace equestrianism, highlighting benefits that extend beyond physical health and enhance psychological and mental well-being.

Another female rider, Ohoud Al-Majzoub, said her deep connection with horses is rooted in her pride in her Arab identity and a lifelong passion that began in childhood. She followed her dream of becoming an equestrian by training to acquire all the necessary skills.

Now she excels not only in free riding but also in show jumping, a discipline that demands navigating a series of obstacles, from simple vertical heights to intricate courses. Her journey is testament to her unique and distinctive sporting creativity.

In the SPA report, equestrians Raghad Mahmoud and Heba Al-Fares said that their childhood dreams of horse riding were once just hopes, because of the lack of clubs. However, Saudi Vision 2030 has ushered in a new era for women’s sports, enabling them to pursue various sports, with equestrianism a standout.

They have since learned to ride and excel in show jumping and free riding and said the availability of such sports and the establishment of dedicated clubs will ignite the passion of many women, whether in equestrianism or other sports.

Noting the growing interest in equestrian sports among women in the Tabuk region, Nasser Al-Nasser, who owns stables in the area, confirmed to SPA that there is a year-round increase in demand for the sport.

Women’s interest in the sport led him to open a special track for women with a focus on show jumping and with female trainers on hand. He added that, despite its long history in the region, equestrianism is now seen as a modern sport that has captivated young men and women alike. In Saudi culture, he said, it symbolizes courage, pride, beauty, strength, heroism and authenticity.

The sport also enhances self-confidence, teaches patience and endurance, and provides numerous psychological and physical benefits to its enthusiasts, he added.

The Tabuk region is currently hosting a foundation training course for the sport of preliminary tent pegging, organized by the Saudi Equestrian Federation. The 15-day course, held at the Al-Thunayanh stable, has attracted about 30 riders of various ages, both male and female.

The training course aims to promote the sport in Saudi society and encourage its practice among horse riding enthusiasts regardless of gender, the SPA said in its report.

The course includes a theoretical part that educates participants on the key regulations and laws of tent pegging. The practical part focuses on training techniques and skills in using spears and swords in various approved competitions.

Participants who complete the training will be awarded certificates by the federation in collaboration with the Leaders Development Institute.

 


Masam 7 continues Saudi Arabia’s support of Yemeni people

Ousama Al-Gosaibi. (Supplied)
Ousama Al-Gosaibi. (Supplied)
Updated 14 July 2024
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Masam 7 continues Saudi Arabia’s support of Yemeni people

Ousama Al-Gosaibi. (Supplied)
  • Al-Gosaibi said the project’s work strategy was built on strong foundations after extensive studies of the nature of the threat posed by mines of all kinds, in addition to Yemen’s complex terrain that requires concerted human and material efforts

RIYADH: The head of Saudi Arabia’s Project Masam, Ousama Al-Gosaibi, thanked and praised the Saudi leadership for the help and support provided to Yemen to eliminate the threat of mines and explosives.

As the Saudi aid agency KSrelief extends Masam’s contract for landmine clearance in Yemen for the seventh consecutive year, Al-Gosaibi said in a press statement that the project succeeded during the past six years in carrying out its humanitarian operations on Yemeni territory, achieving high performance rates in all its field operations.

He said this is considered a significant achievement based on international standards, with the total clearances between the project’s first day and the end of last week totalled 450,919 mines, unexploded ordnance and explosive devices.

Al-Gosaibi said the project’s work strategy was built on strong foundations after extensive studies of the nature of the threat posed by mines of all kinds, in addition to Yemen’s complex terrain that requires concerted human and material efforts.

He added that the project also took into consideration the ongoing military operations, planting of mines, and booby-trapping of land and civilian installations with all kinds of explosives by the Houthi militias.

He said the seventh year will be a continuation of what the project started in mid-2018, with a focus on localized work by intensifying training and logistical support.