Lessons from MERS fight helped Saudi protect health workers during COVID-19: Study

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Lessons learned from the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) disease outbreak provided Saudi Arabia valuable insights that helped authorities respond to COVID-19 outbreak and protect its frontline workers during the height of the pandemic, a study has found.

In 2012, years before the first recorded case of COVID-19, its predecessor MERS - a coronavirus-type disease from the same viral family as COVID-19 or SARS - was first recorded in Saudi Arabia and led to hundreds of deaths across the Arab world.

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A new study looking at the psychological toll suffered by those on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, found far fewer healthcare workers (HCWs) in the Kingdom suffered stress, depression and anxiety than in Egypt.

The authors of the study ‘Depressed, anxious, and stressed: What have healthcare workers on the frontlines in Egypt and Saudi Arabia experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic?’, published this month in Science Direct notes that the “psychological disturbances among HCWs in Egypt were significantly worse than those among HCWs in Saudi Arabia,” the authors said.

“This finding may reflect the robustness of the healthcare system in Saudi Arabia compared with the Egyptian one. During the past decade, the Saudi government adopted a long-term plan to improve the healthcare system which was translated into allocating about 15 percent of the government budgetary expenditures for health services and social development.

“This plan resulted in significant signs of progress in healthcare human and financial resources and striking improvements in key health indicators such as life expectancy and the availability of health resources.”

Moreover, the study found 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 circulation of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in Saudi Arabia in 2012 led to significant improvement in infection control preparedness in healthcare institutions across the country,” the study’s authors noted. “On the other hand, the healthcare system in Egypt faces several challenges related to defective spending and limitations in human resources and infrastructure.”

Overall, depression and anxiety across frontline healthcare workers was high during the height of the pandemic, with many experiencing depression, anxiety and stress and suffering sleepless nights.

Hundreds of healthcare workers including physicians, nurses, pharmacists, technicians, and paramedics across the two Arab countries were quizzed about the state of their mental health in the aftermath of the pandemic. The study found that 69 percent suffered depression, 58.9 percent had anxiety, 55.9 percent had stress, and 37.3 percent had inadequate sleeping.

Authors of the study questioned workers across hospitals across Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Of those suffered emotional stress, women under the age of 30 – particularly in Egypt – were found to be the ones who suffered the most psychological impact.

It found working emergency and night shifts, watching and reading about COVID-19 in mainstream media for more than two hours a day, irregular shift patterns and increased work-load hours as contributors to stress, anxiety and depression.

The authors noted: “Healthcare workers (HCWs) on the frontlines are more vulnerable to traumatization and psychological deficits during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“In addition to the previous factors, the fear of getting infected or infecting family and friends, the hefty workload, the intermittent shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), and the need to take stressful precautions during the medical examination and in the operative fields can add enormous psychological burdens to HCWs.”

The study was carried out between April 14 and April 24, 2020.

The study also showed a gender gap of psychological disturbances with a higher prevalence of depression, anxiety, and stress among women than men.

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“In conclusion, the psychological impacts of COVID-19 were enormous among the HCWs, particularly, in Egypt,” said the study’s authors.

“Intervention programs targeting HCWs should prioritize young women. Providing psychological support and counseling for HCWs should be encouraged.”

The overall number of global COVID-19 cases has surpassed 123 million, while the deaths have surged to more than 2.7 million, according to latest statistics.

Read more:

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

As the world battles COVID-19, Middle East wins war on its virus predecessor: MERS

COVID-19 takes a heavy toll on Saudi residents’ mental health: Study

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