MERS experience helped in tackling corona: Saudi official

A security woman checks the temperature of a woman at King Khalid International Airport, after Saudi Arabia reopened domestic flights, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 31, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri

 Saudi Arabia’s experience in handling the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) disease has greatly helped authorities in tackling COVID-19 pandemic effectively; a senior health official in the Kingdom has said.

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, about 2,553 cases appeared globally, with 876 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It represents 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, told the two-day Riyadh Global Digital Health Summit (RGDHS) here on Tuesday.

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 MERS experience

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 ready, we have a roadmap … We were able to build up our scalability requirement for PPEs and we brought and encouraged local manufacturing way before the emergence of cases; and all of that was learning from MERS;” Jokhdar said.

The summit 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.