Coronavirus: MERS experience helped Saudi Arabia fight COVID-19, health ministry says

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Saudi Arabia’s experience in handling the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) disease provided valuable insights that helped authorities respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kingdom’s Deputy Minister for Public Health said Tuesday.

MERS, a coronavirus-type disease from the same viral family as COVID-19 or SARS, was first recorded in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Between 2012 and March 2020, there have been 2,553 cases recorded globally, with 876 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), representing the significantly higher lethality rate of the virus compared to the 2019 coronavirus.

“When we look at that disease we have a bitter taste but on the other hand we learnt a lot from MERS,” Dr Hani Jokhdar, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Minister for Public Health, Ministry of Health, said on Tuesday.

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Saudi Arabia has taken numerous measures to respond to the 2019 coronavirus pandemic, including setting up numerous drive-in testing facilities throughout the Kingdom and rolling out new healthcare technology to monitor the spread of the virus.

The deadly MERS pandemic, however, resulted in numerous investments and knowledge gains that helped Saudi authorities in fighting COVID-19, with both the Kingdom’s command and control center, and emergency operations center coming out of investments made following MERS, Jokhdar explained.

Furthermore, unlike many countries, Saudi Arabia has not experienced a significant shortage of life saving personal protective equipment (PPE), due to supply chain decisions taken in the wake of MERS.

“We have never had an issue with the supply of PPEs because we were well prepared, we have a roadmap … We were able to build up our scalability requirement for PPEs and we brought and encouraged local manufacturing way before we got hit by cases, and all of that was learning from MERS,” Jokhdar said.

Jokhdar was speaking at the Riyadh Global Digital Health Summit (RGDHS) on Tuesday. The event, held August 11-12, brought global leaders in healthcare together from across the world to discuss how digital health technology could aid in the fight against COVID-19 and future pandemics.

The Ministry of National Guard’s Health Affairs Department and G20 Saudi Secretariat are organizing the two-day virtual summit in collaboration with the Saudi Center for International Strategic Partnerships. The summit follows an Extraordinary Summit of the G20 earlier this year in March, during which members of the 20 most powerful countries in the world all expressed their commitment to fighting the coronavirus pandemic as a united front.

Saudi Arabia has been directly contributing to the fight around the world. In June, the UK expressed its gratitude to Saudi Arabia for the donation of thousands of pieces of medical equipment to the country’s National Health Service. The Kingdom has also donated $150 million to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GIVA), and $500 million to help international efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

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