Tuesday, May 29, 2018

More On The Silence Of The Saudis

Screen shot From Saudi MOH MERS Page


For the past several hours I've been trying to track down - without success -  some kind of official response to multiple unconfirmed Arabic media (and social media) reports of a large household outbreak of MERS-CoV in the Southern KSA town of Najran. 
As we discussed yesterday , in WHO: UAE MERS-CoV Case & IHR Concerns, the Saudi MOH last updated their MERS Surveillance page on May 15th, and since then has removed all daily reports since February 23rd (see screenshot at the top of this blog).
While we haven't heard any reasons behind this recent halt in reporting or the removal of data from the MOH site, over the past few months daily reports on MERS activity from KSA have become increasingly erratic (see EMRO MERS-CoV Summary - April).

The Holy month of Ramadan, during which hundreds of thousands of religious pilgrims visit the Holy Cities of Saudi Arabia, began around the time their MOH website went silent (May 16th), and will run through mid-June.  It will be followed by the Hajj in the third week of August. 
Although press freedoms are sharply curtailed in Saudi Arabia (listed by Reporters Without Borders as 169th of 180 Countries), we do see some independent press reports get out.
It is also true that we've seen some less-than-reliable reporting in the past - and a good deal of `echo chambering' of unverified stories, particularly on social media - making it very difficult to assess the validity of many of these reports.
And that is the quandary we find ourselves in today. 
While we've no official word from the Saudi MOH website and nothing from the official Saudi Press Agency, we have multiple unconfirmed media reports of a large (the numbers vary from 6 to 12 people) household outbreak of MERS-CoV in Najran.

Typical of the twitter traffic this afternoon surrounding this story is the following tweet from Najran Today.

  A (translated) report this afternoon from Sabq.org  reads:
Health" for "already": 6 injured people from the same family as the "Corona" in Najran

Private sources for "already" wounded six people infected with "Corona" explained which was confirmed by the Ministry of Health represented by the General Administration of communication and relationships and awareness in response to an inquiry "above", where indicated that it was diagnosed in Najran emerged outcome positive, and was immediately transferred to Riyadh via dedicated to infectious diseases Air ambulance.

It's "already": The characters on the family home by Health Affairs in Najran region, represented by a specialized medical team from the Department of Public Health as soon as the result was the work of all necessary procedures from an epidemiological survey, and an inventory of all contacts and Mnazerthm and provide health education, and are followed and communicate with them on a daily basis, according to the approved protocol such cases.

She continued:

She added, has been shown to the Ministry of Health that the family has a farm in Najran, a number of camels heads, and had been reported to the Ministry of Environment and Water and Agriculture to take preventive measures.

There are other reports, going back nearly 24 hours, listing either 6, 8, or even 12 cases - although it isn't clear whether all of them were actually symptomatic, or whether some were simply household members or close contacts being tested.
Whether these reports are accurate, or are simply the result of the fact that the Internet abhors a news vacuum, is the $64 question.
But real or not, this is what happens whenever a government - any government - shuts down their reporting on disease outbreaks.  We've seen similar news blackouts in Egypt, China, and Indonesia - with similar results.
With the power an anonymity of the Internet - something resembling the truth, or sometimes just flat out rumors and lies - will always take their place. 
Either way, nothing is gained and a great deal is lost by officials not getting ahead of a story.  Unfortunately that is a lesson that many governments around the world still haven't managed to learn.

I've talked to Sharon Sanders at FluTrackers, and they are monitoring the situation as well.  Hopefully we'll get some clarification on these reports sooner than later.

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