Coronavirus: between fear and embarrassment

Coronavirus embarrassed the government and spread fear in Saudi Arabia

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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Saudi Arabia’s late health minister, Ghazi al-Gosaibi, talks in one of his books about how he managed the ministry during a time when the government was not sure of how to address the issue of poor medical services. He wrote that when he assumed his post, he was shocked by the poor condition of the ministry.

The Ministry of Health is a difficult institution to handle and it seems the situation has not changed despite the slew of ministers who have taken over one after the other.


Infographic: What is the MERS virus?

Infographic: What is the MERS virus?
Infographic: What is the MERS virus?

According to Gosaibi, the problem lies within the ministry itself; its regulations and abilities. The MERS coronavirus crisis has negatively affected the ministry and revealed its failure to recover.

The citizens’ priorities are employment and healthcare and the latter is the main service which citizens depend on to judge their government’s competence, concern, failure and success.

The medical institution in Saudi Arabia - including the ministry, public and private healthcare system, education, training, technology and development – does not work within a comprehensive and integrated strategy. Various aspects of the medical institution operate as separate entities and under several governmental bodies, including the civil, military, commercial and health insurance authorities.

The governmental budget allocated for the health ministry is huge; it reaches $20 billion a year. Half of this amount goes to paying wages and one quarter goes to operational needs. Around 60 percent of the healthcare services go for 150 cities and towns nationwide.

This could be a motivation to reconsider and develop the entire healthcare sector

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

As fears of the coronavirus increase, you would be surprised if you walk into private healthcare centers in Riyadh as neither the medical team nor the people who visit for check-ups wear face masks. This comes despite the fact that 10 percent of the infection spread among medical teams.

In his article in the al-Jazira daily, Dr. Abdullah al-Huqayel highlighted some aspects of the problem and discussed the spread of the virus and the failure to properly treat it. He said that it was, and is still, possible to control the spread of coronavirus before it becomes an epidemic. Coronavirus is not a local issue but an international one as the world has mobilized to confront it before it becomes an epidemic.

Infographic: How to prevent MERS

Infographic: How to prevent MERS
Infographic: How to prevent MERS

Saudi Arabia is a vast country, half of the residents of which are from across the world. Millions of pilgrims visit the country to perform their religious duties of umrah and hajj. Medical healthcare is thus a major public and private service, the management of which must be developed into an integrated system. It is the sector that least hires citizens considering the costly and long preparations needed. This is not a problem as much as it’s a good opportunity to expand the scope of educating, training.

Coronavirus embarrassed the government and spread fear. This could be a motivation to reconsider and develop the entire healthcare sector.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 19, 2014.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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