MOH News
Health Minister's Speech Before the WHO Regional Committee Meetings in Kuwait
07 October 2015
Your Excellency Chairman, Dr. Ali al-Obeidi,
Your Excellency WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, Dr. Alaa Alwan,
Your Excellencies Ministers,
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
May Allah's peace, mercy and blessings be upon you. Good morning.
 
First of all, please allow me to thank the Kuwaiti leadership, government and people for the warm hospitality and impressive organization of this meeting.
 
I would like also to thank the WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, and WHO Regional Director, Dr. Alaa Alwan, for their condolences over the tragic crush that took place in Mina on September 23, during the peak Hajj season. On this occasion, on behalf of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, speaking for the Saudi government and people, I would like to extend profound, hearty condolences to families of that deadly incident. May Allah accept them as martyrs, and may He grant the injured full recovery.
 
As a matter of fact, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always taken incomparable pride in serving pilgrims. It makes substantial sacrifices and harnesses as potentials for that noble purpose, and it spares no effort to maintain pilgrims' safety, and help them perform Hajj in the most convenient manner possible.
 
It goes without saying that organizing the Hajj season presents us with an immense challenge. Even more so, the Kingdom has been encountered with additional significant challenges; ranging from the high temperature and the increased risk of heat exhaustion and sunstroke, through to the risk of epidemic outbreaks.
 
Despite the fact that the Kingdom has successfully managed to prevent MERS-CoV transmission to pilgrims' originating countries for the past 3 Hajj seasons, the challenge had been foreseen to be far more burdensome this year. This is owing to the exceptional rise of MERS-CoV cases right before the advent of this Hajj season. With this in mind, further unprecedented precautions were taken to prevent primary and secondary MERS-CoV transmission. Such preemptive measures, implemented in concert with Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Hajj, included, for the first time, banning a large number of individuals in contact with patients from Hajj zones, and putting them on follow-up lists.
 
Camels, believed to be the source of primary MERS-CoV cases, were also banned from Hajj zones. By no means was this an easy task; it took high coordination with the concerned ministries and huge efforts to bring the ban into effect.
 
For long months before Hajj season, the Ministry of Health (MOH) worked so hard to get its facilities ready to deal with suspected MERS-CoV cases. 121 respiratory isolation rooms and 500 ICU beds were prepared; in addition to 2 regular labs and 1 mobile lab to conduct virus screening in Hajj zones. This year's Hajj season also witnessed activating the Health Electronic Surveillance Network (HESN) to report epidemiological communicable diseases. Various medical missions have been called in to participate in surveillance process. In addition, epidemiological experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been hosted to give their insights. It's worth noting that 1.074 pneumonia cases were reported during this Hajj season, and no MERS-CoV cases were among them, thank Allah. The Kingdom managed, despite the increasing MERS-CoV cases, to secure a Coronavirus-free Hajj for the fourth year in a row.
 
The success of this Coronavirus-free Hajj season is attributed to all the strict preventive efforts exerted by MOH over the year across KSA. Statistics of the year 2014 showed that, in each 10 MERS-CoV cases, only one case was acquired outside hospitals (most often from the source of infection), compared to 9 cases triggered by hospital-infection. This ratio drastically changed in 2015: now, for every case acquired outside hospitals, there is only one case of hospital-related infection, instead of 9 cases. Again, this shows that strict infection control measures and requirements paid off so well. 
 
Moreover, the number of MOH hospitals that experienced outbreaks dropped from 7 hospitals (in 2014) to one hospital in 2015, which makes MOH's experience an example to be followed in other sectors dealing with the epidemiological problem. 
 
Still, with all these immense efforts, we haven't reached a solution to eradicate the root cause of the problem, and prevent its recurrence in the future. In essence, those efforts deal with the symptoms rather than the malaise. Therefore, the Ministry started 3 months ago to involve two major partners: the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs; they play a substantial role in prevention of primary cases. MOH also seeks to raise awareness of and actively include society in its endeavors to combat the virus, and prevent onset of primary cases, looked upon as the essence of evil.
 
Moreover, I'd like to note that KSA is presently leading a scientific technical coalition to develop a vaccine for MERS-CoV. The coalition includes experts from the WHO, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), International Vaccine Institute (IVI), and a number of leading vaccine manufactures. A scientific meeting for the coalition is scheduled to be held on 14th November, 2015, in Riyadh.
 
Having provided an elaborate account of MERS-CoV issue, that I think is of importance for all of you, allow me to move back to the Kingdom's preparation for Hajj.
 
As for protection against incoming diseases, I would like to highlight that the Saudi health system provides a raft of comprehensive preventive services for pilgrims, starting from their arrival at the land, maritime and air entry ports, through which over 1.300.000 have recently crossed. All of them were medically checked up, with almost 400.000 pilgrims being given doses of polio and meningitis vaccines.
 
Furthermore, it is necessary to make clear that the MOH is currently analyzing statistical information of the last 10 Hajj seasons, in cooperation with WHO and CDC experts. Such cooperation is projected to lead to changing and developing the Hajj health requirements for the coming years. In doing so, the Ministry seeks to relieve the burden of morbidity and mortality.
 
As of the next or subsequent year, we will be going into partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to launch a project to gather specific epidemiological data from all pilgrims in Saudi Arabia, in a bid to establish one of the largest health databases on mass gatherings to help us take evidence-based decisions, including a project to establish the Mass-Gathering Medicine Center in collaboration with the WHO.
 
So far as therapeutic medicine is concerned, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has prepared 155 health centers and 25 hospitals, including permanent and seasonal ones, and recruited 25,000 health practitioners to serve pilgrims in the Hajj season, given that the greater proportion of pilgrimage are elderly, with many of them suffering from chronic diseases.
 
The MOH statistics showed that at least one out of three pilgrims is in need of medical care during Hajj. Also, 42 percent of inpatient pilgrims at Hajj hospitals were found to be suffering from several chronic diseases and in need of advanced specialized medical care. This year, the MOH medical teams conducted 22 open-heart surgeries, 513 cardiac catheterizations, 32 gastroscopies, and more than 2,700 dialysis sessions for pilgrims.
 
Regarding the MOH response to the deadly Mina stampede incident, medical field teams rushed to the scene immediately, where ambulances offered on-site treatment to injured pilgrims, and then paramedics embarked on a field triage, and carried the injured to the MOH hospitals in Mina, Madinah, Arafat and Jeddah. At least 350 cases were transferred via air evacuation to ease pressure on Mina hospitals.
 
Despite all such hardships and the large number of victims, this year's Hajj season was thankfully free of infectious and quarantine diseases. I would rate level of health services as generally "very good".
 
In conclusion, we hope that cooperation with all the originating countries of pilgrims would continue in whatever serves pilgrims and Hajj, especially in the domains of educating pilgrims, raising the level of health awareness among them, and increasing the vaccine coverage rates.
 
Again, we reiterate that the Kingdom takes utmost pride in serving Hajj and pilgrims, and we pray for Allah, the Almighty, to provide us with power to serve pilgrims as best as possible. Also, we are ready to share our experience in combating MERS-CoV, and the efforts we exerted to that end, with all member states.
 
 
 
 



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