When disease breaks out in an oppressively governed country, its dissidents are often better health communicators than its doctors. Cuba's cholera outbreak is a case in point.
Some of those adversaries run a Washington think tank called the Institute for Gulf Affairs, which today posted this report on its website: Saudi Killer Virus to Hit US and Europe. The beginning of the post is very timely, given today's exported MERS case in the US. But it's the rest of the post that deserves our attention:
The United States will also see a large wave of Saudi tourists and American expatriates working in Saudi Arabia who are traveling to the United States for summer vacation, increasing the likelihood of MERS infections and fatality.
The second large wave of people arriving to the United States and Europe from Saudi Arabia will be the Saudi students population who are attending universities in the US and Europe. Most of them will spend their summer vacation that includes the fasting month of Ramadan in Saudi Arabia, after which they will return to their respective universities across the US and Europe.
The third wave of people who may transmit MERS to the US and Europe will be in the returning tens of pilgrimages early and mid-October of this year after they finish their 10 days pilgrimage in Saudi citizens Makkah and medina. The pilgrimage which hosts nearly three millions people has proven to be among the best places for diseases transmission over the years because of limited public facilities. In fact, pilgrimage to Makkah has witnessed the highest number of deaths from stampedes, fire and diseases more than any other annually events around the world.
A state of panic has engulfed the Saudi health ministry and its departments according to doctors around Saudi Arabia who declined to be identified fearing punishment. Last week the Saudi Monarchy fired its health minister Abdullah Al-Rabeeah after public outrage over increasing cases of MERS spread around the country.
The Saudi government appears to have been involved in a cover-up on the extent of MERS cases, as shown in reports from doctors and family members of dead patients.
On April 18, Saudi orthopedic surgeon Dr. Saud Almeslmani tweeted that the Saudi Ministry of Health has given orders to doctors at his hospital to not record MERS fatalities in death certificate, and instead record them as heart or lung failure. Almeslmani said when he asked about the ban, he was told it came from high up, referring to the office of the health minister.
Almeslmani’s tweet was confirmed by several relatives of death MERS cases who published death certificates of MERS patients showing the cause of death as a heart failure.
Relatives reported the death of Dhafer AlAmri, 38 male, who died April 19th of MERS in Alhabib private hospital in Riyadh after his official death certificate was issued as a heart failure. Outraged by the hospital, relatives published the death certificate online.
A second patient who died without government reporting is Nora Barakah AlMugairi (AlOtaibi), 28 female, from Afif who died in Riyadh April 19 from MERS but her death certificate showed heart failure as well.
A third patient, Muqtada AlKhater, 25 male, who died in Qatif Central Hospital from MERS but his death certificate recorded as complication of sickle cell disease.
Manji Mohamed Dabash, a Tunisian physician in ministry’s Salman hospital in Delam, Kharj died April 19 in Riyadh, but his death was not reported as MERS related.
In addition to concealing infection and death cases, the Saudi government appears to have failed to prevent unusually high infection rates among doctors and medical staff. This is the case even after the appointment of an acting health minister Adel Fakeih who was started by visiting MERS patients at King Fahd hospital in Jeddah without wearing a face shield or goggles as required by the World Health Organizations.
Among those who we were able to confirm their deaths but not reported by the Saudi government are:
1- Khaled Mamdouh,a news editor died today in Jeddah few days after being hospitalized.
2- Dr. Wael Ramal, an orthopedic surgeon at King Abdullah Medical City who was infected in early April.
3- Dr. Othman Mutawli, a cardiologist at King Fahd hospital in Jeddah recovered from MERS, according to Saudi newspaper who spoke to him
4- Ayman AlGhamdi, a radiologist technician was infected in King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah but was refused hospitalization due to shortage of beds at government hospitals. His family took him to Buqshan private hospital where he remains in ICU and said to be improving.
5- Dr. Ismail Qushmaq, a physician at Specialist Hospital in Jeddah remains in ICU weeks after his diagnosis with MERS. Relatives reported that breathing tubes have been removed from him after he was able to breathe on his own.
Those of us following MERS in the KSA have spent months complaining about Saudi silence, and in the past week or so we've been ecstatic about the comparatively detailed case reports coming out thanks to the new acting health minister, Adel Faqih. He seems like a can-do guy, he's shaking up the system, and we want to believe him.
Now we have this IGA post telling us that a cover-up continues, and it's naming names. Since I share the general western Saudi skepticism about the House of Saud, I'm tempted to believe the dissidents too.
On balance, as with the Cubans, I'll report what the IGA tells us while reminding everyone about the source—and I'll also remind everyone that the Saudi media rank #163 in press freedom, and regularly run stories about people being executed for witchcraft.
Strong claims demand strong evidence, and I'll trust those with the stronger evidence.