By royal decree, Saudi Arabia sacked its health minister yesterday amid an outbreak of the deadly MERS disease. Bloomberg reports:
Abdullah al-Rabeeah was relieved of his duties and will become an adviser to the royal court, the official Saudi Press Agency said late yesterday. He’ll be replaced on an acting basis by Labor Minister Adel Faqih, the SPA said.Saudi Arabia says 19 people in Jeddah and Riyadh have tested positive for the coronavirus, which causes Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, since April 18. Al-Rabeeah said at a press conference in the capital on April 20 that total cases have risen to 244, and the government expects more. At least 93 people have died of the disease since it emerged in Saudi Arabia in September 2012, according to the World Health Organization.
MERS is Saudi Arabia’s answer to SARS, the deadly respiratory virus from China that stoked fears of a global pandemic in 2002. Over the past week alone, the Kingdom has recorded 49 confirmed cases of MERS; that’s a 25 percent increase in the total number of cases since the outbreak began. Malaysia is also on alert, having confirmed a case of the disease in a man who had recently returned from the desert country.While there has been no official explanation for Rabeeah’s sacking, he may have been removed for failing to take the threat seriously enough. According to Reuters, the now-former health minister said in a televised conference Sunday that “there was no medical reason to impose stricter preventative measures against the spread of MERS.”With the Hajj season just around the corner, when millions of Muslims from all over the world come to pay pilgrimage to Mecca, Riyadh should be taking every precaution to prevent a global outbreak. We hope it has the right people for the job.