Saudi health minister urges citizens to ‘join hands’ to combat MERS

Fakeih was speaking at a meeting of King Faisal Specialist Hospital officials

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Saudi Arabia's acting health minister Adel Fakeih reiterated the need for cooperation to combat the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus which has killed 169 people in the Kingdom since it first appeared some two years ago.

Fakeih was speaking at a meeting of King Faisal Specialist Hospital officials. Qasim Al-Qasabi, a board member and secretary general of the hospital, said they have addressed the condition of the new children hospital in Riyadh, and discussed the budget allocated for projects at Jeddah specialist hospital.

They have also handled the operation difficulties facing the ER as well the challenge of Saudizing the nursing sector. Director of Media and Public Relations at the hospital Najib Yamani said members of the medical team, who got infected with coronavirus, have recovered. He said they have increased the number of beds at the ER from 20 to 60.

Meanwhile, Barclay Phillips, senior vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer at Novavax, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company creating novel vaccines to address a broad range of infectious diseases, informed Saudi Gazette that the company has not yet sent any experts to Saudi Arabia, “but would consider doing so based on interactions with Saudi health authorities.”

He said traditional vaccine development and approval processes would require many years of additional product development work, including clinical trials to prove the safety and efficacy of a vaccine prior to formal regulatory approval.

Asked if they were contacted by Saudi Ministry of Health about developing a vaccine for MERS, he said: “We are not in a position to publicly discuss any formal contact with the Saudi Ministry of Health or any other interested governmental agency. Novavax has and will make itself available, and is open to discussions, with interested parties.

Meanwhile, Health officials in the U.S. reported on Saturday what appears to be the first time that a mysterious Middle East virus has spread from one person to another in the U.S.

The Illinois man probably picked up an infection from an Indiana man who earlier this month became the first US case of MERS. The Illinois man, however, never needed medical treatment and is reported to be feeling well, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on May 19, 2013.