Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Saudi Health Ministry has affirmed that it will not change the recommendations made by the workshop that was held in Jeddah recently to face up to swine flu, all the more since changing them depends on a change in the type of the virus. In this respect, there has not been any change in the type of the virus, according to a statement made by Health Ministry Spokesman Khalid Marghalani. In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, the latter stated: “There will be no change of the preventive plan already made by the ministry, for the pilgrimage season.” He stressed that Saudi Arabia is completely ready to receive this year’s pilgrims.
Dr Khalid Marghalani told Asharq Al-Awsat that the plan already made for the pilgrimage season provides for the need to focus on information technology and on equipment to monitor and follow up cases of disease. This equipment has been made available in sufficient quantities in the country, including laboratory scanners, and all plants and health sectors have been equipped and placed at the disposal of the ministry.
Dr Khalid Marghalani added: “Usually, health precaution measures are sent [by the WHO] to all the countries of the world, but experts have stressed the importance of the [WHO] member countries showing commitment to what the Saudi Health Ministry offers during the [major] pilgrimage and minor pilgrimage seasons.” He underlined that isolation wards will be designated, which are usually located inside airport pilgrims’ halls or near them. He added: “As soon as a rise in the temperature of a suspect is discovered, he is isolated until further medical tests are carried out and checked; this is with the aim of preserving the safety of others.”
The Health Ministry spokesman also stated that the ministry has taken all precautions to deal immediately with the situation in the event of any swine flu outbreak during the pilgrimage. This is all the more so since Saudi Arabia already has been through many experiences that have shown that it can secure safe pilgrimage and minor pilgrimage seasons.
For his part, Dr Abdul-Rahman al-Mulaybari, assistant manager of the King Faisal Hospital in Mecca, has pointed out that the ministry has not supplied hospitals with a specific plan, and the way patients are received and dealt with will be the same. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that isolation wards have been equipped in medical emergency locations, and the tools that are usually used have been made available, such as gloves and protective clothes, together with the equipment necessary for laboratories to carry out the necessary tests in disease cases. He noted that, during the pilgrimage season, both the King Faisal Hospital directorate and the ministry deal with outpatient cases.
Dr Abdul-Rahman al-Mulaybari added that the precautionary measures made by the King Faisal Hospital include the creation of two emergency medical care units composed of a doctor, a nurse, and a driver each; they start work as soon as a disease case is discovered in a specific place. He stressed that the number of these field units can rise to four if necessary.
Back to the spokesman for the Health Ministry, who said that the authorities concerned have increased by 20 percent their requests for drugs to treat the swine flu (H1N1); this is more than the rate fixed by the World Health Organization, which is about 10 percent. He stated that the national commission, which is composed of the most prominent specialists and consultants in pandemics, influenza, and viruses, has stressed the importance of making available the vaccine in Saudi Arabia as soon as it is manufactured. This is part of the precautionary measures taken by the ministry to contain this plague.
The international advisory workshop for precautionary measures to prevent the outbreak of swine flu during the pilgrimage and minor pilgrimage seasons, which was hosted by Saudi Arabia and was composed of the Saudi health minister and a group of world and local experts as well as of representatives of the World Health Organization, has made several recommendations. The workshop participants affirmed that this disease is still of moderate acuity in comparison with seasonal influenza. They stressed the need for further monitoring of the plague, and for halting its spread through the measures currently in use, even if this will not prevent more cases occurring, as is happening in all the countries of the world.
According to the recommendations in question, sufficient quantities of treatment and prevention drugs against the swine flu virus should be made available by the circles concerned and by the pilgrimage missions. Similarly, an appropriate health quarantine ward should also be secured to deal with cases requiring isolation. Such a ward should be located near the pilgrims’ arrival halls. It is also recommended that both the pilgrimage and minor pilgrimage should be postponed for old age people, chronic disease patients, children, and pregnant women, in order to preserve their safety.
The experts have also pointed out in their recommendations the need for all the WHO member countries to abide by the medical measures announced by the Saudi Health Ministry. Moreover, participants in the workshop in question underlined that their recommendations concern the current stage of the virus, and they will be automatically updated in accordance with the international situation of the plague and with the scale of change of the virus type.
In this connection, on Tuesday [21 July] the World Health Organization announced that swine flu has killed about 700 people throughout the world since it broke out in April. This has led many states to thinking about closing down schools to stop its spread. The WHO said that the measures that will be put in force to halt the spread of any new type of the virus are left for the health authorities of each country, individually. The organization said that various countries will be facing the disease at various levels and times, and, hence, it is really up to individual states to look into the alleviating measures suitable to them and to their respective specific situation.
On 11 June, the World Health Organization declared that the swine flu virus has become a world pandemic that is spreading at an unprecedented speed, which makes it useless to count the number of cases. The organization also urged states to make public the number of cases in their respective countries, to focus on alleviating measures, and to look for any unusual types of the disease and for a rise in the average absence of people[from work].
It is noted that the Saudi Health Ministry issued a statement last Monday [20 July], in which it announced a halt of the daily publication of the number of new swine flu cases, given that most of them are benign. The ministry said that this move was taken because such a daily publication is not necessary to follow up the progress of the disease and its nature.
The ministry stressed in its statement that it has secured the special drugs for everybody, and that it has ordered sufficient quantities of anti-swine flu vaccine to make sure that it is available in Saudi Arabia as soon as possible. The ministry underlined the need to focus on the treatment of the disease, monitoring it, and raising awareness of it, but statements will be released about it when necessary.