"It's very difficult to give all the details to the people when we don't know all the details," Ziad Memish, the deputy health minister, said last week at his office in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. "Where's it coming from? We don't know. How is it transmitted? We don't know."
Dr. Memish said that the Saudi government is sharing its data with the WHO, but keeping certain details from the public to protect patient privacy.
He also said the government is running MERS advisories on television and in newspapers.
But in Hafr al Batin, a remote town in Saudi Arabia's northeast, relatives of four recent victims complained that no one in the family had ever heard warnings about the new disease or how to avoid catching it. "We had no idea," said Jawal al-Sahly, who lost his 39-year-old brother Fahd al-Sahly, their mother and two other family members.
Hospital workers in the town—site of 11 confirmed cases—kept telling Fahd that "he's not sick, 'You're making a big deal out of nothing,' " Mr. Sahly said in an interview, sitting on the faded carpet of the majlis, or meeting room, of the family's home.
Authorities "don't want people to know there is corona in Saudi Arabia," he charged, using the name used by Saudis.While I appreciate Dr. Memish's reluctance to violate patient privacy, Knickmeyer clearly found a family willing to share their experience. The Ministry of Health could invite others to do the same; it would make the campaign against MERS far more personal, and therefore persuasive. And that, in turn, would enhance respect around the world for the way the Saudis are handling a very difficult problem.