Saudi Health Officials Must Provide More Transparency, Information In MERS Outbreak

An opinion piece and editorial discuss the importance of transparency in Saudi Arabia’s handling of the MERS outbreak.

Foreign Policy: Stay Away from Camel Milk and Egyptian Tomb Bats
Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations

“…The question now is: Will the [Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)] virus go global? MERS is at least three times more lethal than SARS. About 31 percent of MERS patients have eventually succumbed versus eight percent of SARS cases. … The specter of a SARS-like, 31-nation, 8,500-patient MERS pandemic is three times more horrible, due to the greater virulence of the virus. Without knowing the relative roles date palm farming, Egyptian tomb bats, camels, hospitals, and other possible factors play in the spread of MERS in Saudi Arabia, it is extremely difficult to predict the pandemic potential of this disease. Clearly, spread inside hospitals is transpiring and must be stopped before the world can possibly breathe a sigh of relief. This will require a great deal more than face masks and the scanty patient information released to date by Saudi authorities…” (4/30).

The Lancet: Political commitment to MERS-CoV in Saudi Arabia
“…For all countries facing emerging infectious diseases, there needs to be clear, honest, and timely communication between the government and its health departments and the public. For Saudi Arabia, the government can allay fears by explaining the reasons for [former Health Minister Abdullah Al Rabeeah’s] transfer [to adviser at the Royal Court], and any implications for ongoing management of MERS-CoV. The challenges of public health security in Saudi Arabia, particularly mass gatherings like the Hajj, demand the attention of a full-time Health Minister” (5/3).