Deputy health minister fired as MERS toll hits 190

Ziad Al-Memish

RIYADH: Deputy Health Minister Ziad Memish, who played a frontline role in the campaign against the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus, has been relieved from his post.

Memish’d dismissal was announced by the Health Ministry on Twitter Tuesday as the death toll from the coronavirus hit 190.

In its latest bulletin late Monday, the ministry said the total number of MERS infections recorded in the Kingdom rose to 575.

The latest MERS fatality was recorded as a 42-year old male in Al-Jouf who was suffering from renal stones. He was admitted to a government hospital on May 30 and died on June 1, said the bulletin.

Memish was the second top Health Ministry official to lose his post apparently as a result of the MERS crisis.

In April, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah replaced then Health Minister Abdullah Al-Rabeeah as the number of MERS infections and deaths spiked, causing panic among the public.

The king named Labor Minister Adel Fakeih as acting health minister in a concurrent capacity.

Last month, Fakeih sacked the top management of King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah after numerous medical staff reportedly got infected, causing some of the hospital’s Saudi doctors to resign.

No reason was given for the dismissal of Memish, who had been the ministry’s point man in the campaign against MERS since the coronavirus was first discovered in September 2012.

A Reuters report said international scientists interviewed for a Reuters Special Report last month have chided Memish for being reluctant to collaborate with some specialist laboratories around the world offering to help investigate the possible source of MERS and explore how it spreads.

“Experts say the rising number of infections and deaths could have been stopped well within the two years since MERS first emerged — and would have been if Saudi authorities had been more open to outside help offered by specialist teams around the world with the technology, know-how and will to conduct scientific studies,” said the report.

It said Memish was asked last month about the criticisms and said he was “surprised” but did not respond to the allegations directly concerning his own role.

Reuters quoted David Heymann, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology, chairman of Public Health England, and head of global health security at Britain’s Royal Institute of International Affairs, as saying “Saudi Arabia needs to make sure it has appropriate infection control practices in hospitals, where cases are being transmitted, and number two, they need to do the case-control study that will hopefully tell them how people are getting infected.”

Acting Health Minister Fakeih wrote last week in a response to the Reuters Special Report that Saudi Arabia was working with international scientific organizations to improve its response to MERS, and pledged to continue that collaboration, said the report.

The rate of infection has slowed since mid-May, which public health officials say may be a result of improved infection control procedures introduced in Saudi hospitals.





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