Saudi Arabia to make coronavirus vaccine free for citizens and residents

Time: 24 November 2020

Muslim pilgrims wearing protective face masks arrive to circle the Kaaba at the Grand mosque during the annual Haj pilgrimage amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia July 29, 2020. (Reuters)
  • It hopes the vaccines would cover 70 percent of the Kingdom’s population by the end of 2021

JEDDAH: The Saudi Ministry of Health is aiming to offer free vaccines to 70 percent of citizens and expats in the Kingdom who have not yet contracted the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Officials are hoping to have met the target for inoculations by the end of next year.

“Those who have not tested positive for COVID-19 will be given priority in the vaccine campaign in the coming months,” said Dr. Abdullah Asiri, the ministry’s assistant undersecretary for preventive health.

However, under-16s are not to be vaccinated unless research or tests prove there to be a need, he added.

He noted that the Kingdom planned to announce a clear schedule of vaccinations arrival to the country in the coming weeks.

“The Kingdom worked on two paths to obtain the vaccine, through the COVAX organization, which the G20 had a role in creating and financing.

“Saudi Arabia will obtain a large amount of vaccines through this facility, while the second track is direct contracting with the big companies to cover the gap that cannot be covered through COVAX,” Asiri said.

COVAX is a global initiative aimed at working with vaccine manufacturers to provide countries around the world with equitable access to safe and effective vaccines once they are licensed and approved.

Asiri pointed out that obtaining effective vaccines required a long preparation plan and supply chain, and time for the vaccine to arrive in large enough quantities to the countries requiring it.

FASTFACT

The Kingdom plans to announce a clear schedule of vaccine arrival in the coming weeks.

“Therefore, what will be released this year is not expected to be in the large quantities that would affect the pandemic’s trajectory, which isn’t expected before mid-2021,” he added.

Assistant to the minister of health and official spokesman, Dr. Muhammad Al-Abd Al-Aly, said that the ministry would only provide COVID-19 vaccines that were effective against the virus, had no side effects, and were approved by the authorities concerned with granting licenses.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia recorded 19 new COVID-19-related deaths on Monday taking to 5,796 the total number of people in the country who had now died after contracting the virus.

There were 231 new cases reported in the Kingdom, putting the total so far at 355,489. Officials said 5,877 cases were still active, of which 765 patients were in a serious or critical condition.

According to the Ministry of Health, 46 of the newly recorded cases were in Riyadh, 18 in Makkah and Jeddah, and 11 in Madinah.

In addition, 445 patients had recovered from COVID-19, moving the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom up to 343,816.

Saudi Arabia has so far conducted 9,295,599 polymerase chain reaction tests, with 40,395 carried out in the last 24 hours.

This article was first published in Arab News

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KSrelief Launches Third Batch of Kingdom’s COVID-19 Support for Palestine

Time: 02 October 2020

RAMALLAH, PALESTINE: King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief) recently handed over its third batch of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s COVID-19 support for Palestine; the aid was presented to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in the presence of the Health Minister of the State of Palestine, Dr. Mai Al Kaila.

This third batch of aid included ventilators, ICU beds, operating tables and patient monitoring systems. These items will help to equip Palestinian hospitals and health centers specialized in treating COVID-19, particularly in areas that are short of supplies and need more support to improve their health situations.

This aid is being provided according to directives from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and HRH the Crown Prince for KSrelief to provide urgent assistance to vulnerable countries to help them combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

This article was first published in KSRelief official website

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How Saudi Arabia kept COVID-19 at bay

Time: 23 September 2020

An aerial view shows deserted streets in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah on April 21, 2020, as the message “stay home” in Arabic is displayed on a tower during the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis. (Photo by Bandar al-DANDANI / AFP)
Saudi Arabia managed to keep the enemy from its soil for two months, buying precious time to build up its defenses. (AFP)
  • From its peak in June, Saudi Arabia’s daily new cases have dropped below 500

LONDON: At the height of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, June 17 passed unremarked on, as just another day in Saudi Arabia’s hard-fought battle against the worst public health crisis the country has ever seen.

In future, however, June 17 might be seen as an appropriate date for the people of Saudi Arabia to remember their nation’s epic battle against the microscopic enemy that brought the world to its knees — for that was the day the number of daily new cases in the Kingdom peaked.

At the time, the day’s tally of 4,919 cases seemed daunting. In fact, the tide of battle had turned in favor of the Kingdom. After that, slowly but steadily the number began to drop. From its first case on March 2, Saudi Arabia had broken the back of the pandemic in just 107 days.

COVID-19 emerged in China in early January, spreading rapidly around the world, but Saudi Arabia managed to keep the enemy from its soil for two months, buying precious time to build up its defences.

“We were luckier than many other countries because our cases started a little bit later,” said Dr. Hani Jokhdar, deputy minister for public health, speaking in August at the Riyadh Global Digital Health Summit. “This gave us a small opportunity to develop our systems, watching and observing what was happening in the rest of the world.”

Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries in the world to set up laboratories to test for the coronavirus, with tests available for anyone with symptoms from March 5 onward. Over the next five months more than five million would be carried out.

‘We witness the fruits of our labor today.’

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly

In February, travel to and from infected countries was quickly curtailed, culminating in a ban on all international flights by March 15. Restrictions on internal travel followed shortly after.

And on Feb. 27, Saudi Arabia took the unprecedented but necessary step of suspending Umrah visas for foreign pilgrims. The Kingdom would also take the lead in closing mosques.

Saudi Arabia’s defences were finally breached on March 2, thanks to two citizens who had returned home infected from Bahrain, neglecting to mention that their journeys had begun in Iran, a country already in the grip of the disease.

Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia, the last of the six Gulf Cooperation Council states to be hit by the virus, was better prepared than many countries for what was coming. A raft of apps — some established, others developed quickly in the face of the new disease — allowed citizens and residents to report symptoms, book virtual appointments and access testing.

Such technology would also play a vital role in the management of Hajj. As the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, from the outset Saudi Arabia was keenly aware of the consequences for itself, the region and the entire planet if it failed to manage the pilgrimage effectively.

This year the decision was taken to limit numbers to a symbolic 1,000, selected from nationals and foreigners already in the country. Careful screening, monitoring and meticulous management ensured that, in this remarkable year, Hajj passed off without a single case of COVID-19.

Throughout, Saudi Arabia’s battle against the virus has been led from the very top. On March 19, King Salman addressed the nation on television. The Kingdom, he said, “continues to take all precautionary measures to confront this pandemic and limit its effects. We depend on the aid of God Almighty, then on deploying our full capabilities, supported by your strong determination to face adversity with the steadfastness of believers at the forefront.”

Key Dates

  • 1

    Saudi Arabia launches a public information campaign on Jan. 28, holds the first meeting of the COVID-19 Follow-Up Committee on Feb. 1, and bans travel to China on Feb. 6.

    Timeline Image Jan. 28-Feb. 6

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    Timeline Image March 2

  • 3

    Timeline Image March 4

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    Timeline Image March 8

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    Timeline Image March 15

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    Timeline Image March 23

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    Timeline Image March 26

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    Timeline Image April 6

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    Timeline Image May 13

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    Timeline Image June 17

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    Timeline Image July 29-31

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    Timeline Image Aug. 9

Neither Saudi Arabia nor the world is out of the woods yet. But as the global daily tally of cases continues to rise, hitting a record high of over 316,000 on Sept. 11, for a total of 31.2 million cases and 965,372 deaths, so Saudi Arabia’s daily caseload continues to shrink, even as restrictions have been relaxed and life in the country has begun to return to normal.

On Sunday, the number of daily new cases dropped below 500 for the first time in five months. As Ministry of Health spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly said: “We witness the fruits of our labor today.” The “huge improvement,” he added, was thanks to “everyone’s efforts.”

Let there be no doubt that, with a total of 329,271 cases and 4,458 deaths recorded by Sunday, Saudi Arabia has suffered in 2020.

But one has only to look at how badly many other states have fared — including some of the most powerful and advanced countries in the world — to realize just how much worse this terrible year might have been for the Kingdom, were it not for its preparations and timely and decisive actions.

This article was first published in Arab News

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How Saudi doctors fight COVID-19 abroad

Time: 23 September 2020

A woman wearing a protective facemask walks past a paste-up by French street artist Ardif in Paris, depicting a Marianne and a member of the medical staff as a tribute to thank the caregivers, on May 15, 2020, as France eases the lockdown measures taken to curb the spread of the COVID-19, (the novel coronavirus). (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION – TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION
Many of the more than 6,000 Saudi doctors across 41 countries on medical fellowship programs abroad continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. (Supplied)
  • Many of the more than 6,000 Saudi doctors in medical fellowship programs abroad are fighting COVID-19 in 41 countries

MAKKAH: Many of the more than 6,000 Saudi doctors across 41 countries on medical fellowship programs abroad continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, doing their diligent duty to help people across the globe.

These doctors have shown dexterity in combating the coronavirus pandemic alongside colleagues from their host countries. A substantial number of those Saudi doctors refuse to leave despite the dangers, remaining in the countries where they are studying to help their fellow colleagues in the battle.

Dr. Abdullah Boqays, a fellow working as a dermatologist in cancer hospitals in Toulouse, France, told Arab News that 2020 has been a frightening year for many medical care workers.

“Doctors with various specialties have fought competently since the start of the pandemic, especially the ones dealing directly with infected patients, not only while working in hospitals, which make them more vulnerable than others in terms of infection, but also while dealing with patients who suffer from a weakened immune system,” he said.

Dr. Boqays told Arab News that the staff in his department of skin tumor and dermatology have had to deal with a number of follow-ups and consultations with visiting skin cancer patients, many of whom are at advanced stages of the disease or have weakened immune systems due to chemotherapy or immunosuppressants.

Tumor-removal surgeries have continued despite the pandemic, Dr. Baqis said. “The work environment, as well as behavioral and ethical practices, obliges us to continue the treatment, regardless of the reasons and methods used. Delaying chemotherapy drugs, administering  immunosuppressants or not performing curative surgeries might have disastrous consequences on the patients. We rely on God first, take the necessary precautionary measures to meet the demands of patients, support them and alleviate their pain,” he said.

“Even though we are far from our precious country, we are at peace because our wise government — under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — supports us and cares for Saudis abroad,” Dr. Boqays said

Abdullah Modhayan, a psychiatric resident at the Skane University Hospital in Malmo, has been in Sweden since 2015. “There are more than 50 Saudi doctors on a medical fellowship program in Sweden, working in various medical specialties in different cities, and most of them were on the frontline in the Swedish health system,” he said.

“Some of my colleagues on a medical fellowship program were infected with COVID-19, and quickly returned to their positions to help their colleagues in the Swedish health sector after they’d recovered. It is noteworthy to mention that the work achieved by Saudi doctors in Sweden was and still is appreciated here.”

The Kingdom vs. COVID-19

How Saudi Arabia acted swiftly and coordinated a global response to fight the coronavirus, preventing a far worse crisis at home and around the world.

Sweden made headlines for its soft strategy in combatting the pandemic: The government did not close down shops, restaurants or cafés, and did not impose a quarantine for its citizens and residents.

“This decision had major consequences at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Sweden,” Dr. Modhayan said. “The mortality rate was one of the highest in Europe, which was difficult on the health sector and its status amid a real challenge. Saudi doctors played an efficient role in the face of this challenge here.”

During the pandemic, Dr. Modhayan has been working in the psychiatric emergency department. He noted the psychological effect on individuals, most notably on those who lost loved ones to the coronavirus. “Providing psychological support and treatment for those who need it is very important, especially in such difficult circumstances,” he said.

Dr. Abdulghani Khogeer, a nephrologist surgeon (specializing in kidney and urinary tract diseases), has been living in France for the past seven years as part of a Saudi-French fellowship program and has seen firsthand the disastrous effect the pandemic had on France.

“Similar to other countries, France fought the coronavirus vigorously in the beginning, which required suspending non-urgent medical activities. This had a major effect on the workflow, as we followed remote procedures at clinics, canceled non-urgent operations, rescheduled surgeries, canceled clinics and followed other procedures. That required our constant presence and readiness to help in departments combating the virus such as the emergency department, performing many necessary surgeries during that time.”

Dr. Khogeer is grateful to the Kingdom’s embassy for its support and constant communication during this critical period. “I pray to God to protect us and help us return to our country safely, in order to serve it with all our learning and knowledge,” he said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia backs UN’s coronavirus response plan with $100 million

20/09/20

During a virtual meeting with UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, announced the Kingdom’s donation of US$100 million to support the International Response Plan to coronavirus pandemic. (Twitter/@ksamissionun)
  • Kingdom’s donation will support UN’s International Response Plan to coronavirus pandemic
  • Guterres thanked Saudi Arabia for its generous and continuous support to UN

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said Friday it was donating $100 million to the World Health Organization (WHO) and toward a number of projects in support of a United Nations response plan to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement was made by the Kingdom’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, during a virtual event with UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Saudi Press Agency reported.
“The International Response Plan to coronavirus pandemic, the WHO and other UN agencies will benefit from this Saudi donation,” Al-Mouallimi tweeted following the meeting.

Earlier, Al-Mouallimi said that “this support comes within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s international efforts in support of the response to combating the coronavirus, and awareness of the importance of cooperation, solidarity and collective and international action to foster a transparent, robust, coordinated and wide-ranging global response.”
He said the Kingdom was carrying out “the role it has been entrusted with toward multilateralism, collective and international action in order to confront the COVID-19 pandemic,” adding that Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries “to extend a hand of aid and coordination” with countries affected by the spread of the virus.
Al-Mouallimi said that the Kingdom is working to enable the UN to lead international action to intensify global efforts to combat coronavirus, and to enhance support for developing countries and the most vulnerable regions in fighting this pandemic.
In particular, he mentioned assisting refugees, raising the standards of living among the world’s poorest groups, developing fragile economies, mediating an end to conflicts, and building more harmonious relationships between nations.
Guterres thanked King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the Kingdom’s generous and continuous support to the organization, saying that Saudi Arabia worked in partnership with the UN to support security, stability and prosperity in all parts of the world, especially in Yemen.

This article was first published in Arab News

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KSRelief sends plane loads of aid to Sudan amid floods and COVID-19 pandemic

Time: 15 September 2020

Flood water fills a ditch in the ancient royal city at the archaeological site of Meroe, in the Sudanese al-Bajrawia area in the River Nile State, 200Km north of the capital, on September 9, 2020. – The ancient complex of Meroe, capital of the powerful Meroitic Empire lasting from 350 BCE to 350 CE, extends over 1500 Km in the Nile valley. It is composed of the necropolis of Kushite royalty with its renowned pyramids, as well as the royal city which hosted palaces, temples and administration, and that was threatened by the severe flooding of the Nile river that induced a country-wide state of emergency. (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP)
  • KSRelief sends planes filled with aid to Sudan

RIYADH: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) has sent planes to Sudan filled with aid, including equipment to provide shelter, as well as medical and food supplies for affected regions and provinces hit by the recent flooding.

In addition, the Kingdom continued its support to Sudan to face the new Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by sending a plane carrying 105 tons of medical supplies.

Dr Afaf Al-Nahas, Director General of the National Fund for Medical Supplies in Sudan, praised the Kingdom’s initiatives and its enthusiasm to share the Sudanese society concerns, and participate in its programs.

In addition, she praised the efforts of Saudi Arabia and its continued support to Sudan and its people, assuring that the shipment of medicines offered by the Kingdom is currently the best support to the Sudanese Ministry of Health, in order to continue fighting the pandemic in the Capital and in various provinces.

Finally, she expressed her thanks to King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, deputy prime minister and defense minister, for their continuous efforts to help humanity around the globe, in line with the Kingdom’s tradition in helping humans with no exceptions.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi clinics carry out 2 million virus tests

Time: 13 August, 2020

Saudi Arabia announced 36 more deaths from COVID-19 and 1,569 new cases of the disease on Wednesday. (SPA)
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 257,269
  • A total of 3,269 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Takkad centers have launched a 24-hour testing service as part of an early detection campaign to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Tetamman clinics and Takkad (make sure) centers have carried out more than 2 million polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests across the Kingdom since the start of the pandemic.
Takkad centers are designated for those who have no symptoms or only mild symptoms, but who believe they might have come into contact with a person infected with COVID-19.
Commenting on Saudi Arabia’s participation in vaccine clinical trials, Ministry of Health spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly said on Wednesday that the Kingdom is committed to joining the global effort to find a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Effectiveness and safey are priorities for clinical trials conducted in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “The Kingdom has been participating since the beginning of the pandemic to support all research departments and efforts in finding a cure and treatment.”
A total of 1,569 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded in the Kingdom on Wednesday, meaning 293,037 people in Saudi Arabia have now contracted the disease. There were 32,499 active cases, 1,826 of which were critical.
Al-Aly announced 2,151 new recoveries, taking the total number to 257,269, while 36 new fatalities were reported, raising the death toll to 3,269.
More than 4 million polymerase tests have been carried out in the Kingdom, including 67,676 in the past 24 hours.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia permits Eid Al-Adha prayers with coronavirus measures

Time: 14 July, 2020

The Minister of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance said it has intensified its awareness and guidance campaign to adopt preventive protocols to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
  • Prayers will only take place in certain mosques

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said on Monday it would permit worshippers to perform Eid Al-Adha prayers at mosques.
The Minister of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance, Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh, directed the ministry’s branches in the regions throughout the Kingdom to provide for this year’s Eid Al-Adha prayers.
Prayers will only take place in certain mosques and ensuring they use the government’s preventative measures, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The ministry said it has intensified its awareness and guidance campaign to adopt preventive protocols to combat the spread of the coronavirus through the participation of a group of advocates and scholars, in addition to publishing what was recommended by the medical committees concerned with combating the epidemic.

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250 Saudi doctors volunteer for scheme offering free medical consultations

Time: 11 July, 2020

At least 250 Saudi doctors and health practitioners have signed up to an ambitious community volunteer program offering free medical consultations to patients throughout the Kingdom. (SPA)
  • Health Ministry records 2,220 critical COVID-19 cases, deaths toll reaches 2,151
  • The scheme’s health volunteers are hoping to provide 250,000 consultations by the end of the year

At least 250 Saudi doctors and health practitioners have signed up to an ambitious community volunteer program offering free medical consultations to patients throughout the Kingdom.

The We Are All Sanad initiative, supervised by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, aims to recruit more than 2,000 medics to offer expert advice and raise awareness on key health issues.
Covering around 30 specialties, the scheme’s health volunteers, 45 percent of whom have so far been women, are hoping to provide 250,000 consultations by the end of the year.
The project is being run in tandem with Saudi government efforts to combat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The head of the initiative, Dr. Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Hamali, said the volunteer advisers had already provided hundreds of free teleconsultations remotely through the Mawidy (my appointment) platform which had contributed toward achieving sustainable goals, such as improving community service, increasing access to health care, and raising health awareness.
The initiative, launched on March 1, has been designed to help overcome obstacles faced by patients in relation to access to health care.
“These challenges include geographic barriers, a lack of clarity in the appointments available to patients, the high costs of treatment in some private sector facilities, and fear of disease exposure when visiting hospitals and clinics.
“We Are All Sanad provides services to everyone, however, priority has been given to beneficiaries of charities, especially under the unprecedented current conditions and the coronavirus pandemic, which threatens the health and safety of the world,” said Al-Hamali, adding that the program supported more than 15 associations.
The Mawidy app, available in Arabic, English, and sign language, offers telemedicine and appointment booking services, and users will soon be able to make home health care reservations as part of a raft of upcoming additional services.

FASTFACTS

The total number of coronavirus cases in KSA reached 226,486.

The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom reached 163,026.

The number of active cases in Saudi Arabia stood at 61,309.

The total number of PCR tests in the Kingdom reached 2,179,448.

Deputy head of the initiative, Dr. Sultan bin Faisal, praised the ministry for its support for health charity staff and beneficiaries through the provision of telemedicine consultations, educational lectures, and scientific seminars.
He said volunteers wishing to join the initiative could register through the Mawidy platform, provided they had a valid license from the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties, adding that the scheme offered a unique opportunity for health practitioners to exchange experiences.
Faisal pointed out that the team included 30 young volunteers who would receive skills development training through the Ibtikar program, which offered scientific and practical training courses.
Meanwhile, the Kingdom on Friday recorded 51 new COVID-19-related deaths, raising the total to 2,151.
There were 3,159 new cases reported in Saudi Arabia, meaning 226,486 people had now contracted the disease. There were 61,309 active cases, with 2,220 patients in critical condition.
According to the Ministry of Health, 296 of the newly recorded cases were in Riyadh, while 249 were reported in Al-Hofuf, and 209 in Jeddah. In addition, 1,930 more patients had recovered from COVID-19, taking the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 163,026.
Saudi Arabia has so far conducted 2,179,448 tests for COVID-19.
As part of the Kingdom’s strategy to tackle the virus outbreak, several services and products have been rolled out throughout the country.
These have included Takkad (make sure) centers which have conducted more than 480,000 lab tests, 239 Tetamman clinics which have dealt with at least 265,000 patients, the provision of an extra 2,500 intensive care unit beds, the building of four field hospitals, the carrying out of at least 2.1 million lab tests, and the conducting of 3.7 million medical consultations through the ministry’s 937 service center.
Earlier, Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly said that we are currently going through a phase of stability and control of the COVID-19 curve in the Kingdom. “This is due to the successful measures taken by authorities, and public awareness, and we should maintain this level of commitment.”
The ministry urges those who have come in contact with an infected person to immediately isolate themselves and call them at 937. They should also stay away from others and self-isolate at home.

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INTERVIEW: Abeer Al-Fouti sees Alwaleed delivering global response to COVID-19 pandemic

11/07/20

Abeer Al-Fouti runs the global side of Alwaleed Philanthropies and is convinced that only a global approach will work in the face of COVID-19, the biggest health challenge for nearly a century. (Illustration: Luis Grañena)

Abeer Al-Fouti explains how the philanthropic world has come together in the COVID-19 era
DUBAI: Charity begins at home, they say, but in the era of the world pandemic such a domestic-focused approach is neither desirable nor effective.

That is why several global philanthropic organisations, and big name donors, have come to the fore in the course of the COVID-19 crisis to offer financial, practical and logistics support to those people in the world whose governments do not have the means to extend assistance to their entire population.

Perhaps the best known is Bill Gates, the American entrepreneur who has pledged to give away his entire multi-billion dollar fortune to beat the virus. Other eminent entrepreneurs have also given billions in the attempt to find an elusive vaccine or effective treatment.

But Saudi Arabia has its own famous philanthropist in the shape of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the Kingdom Holding magnate, who has for many years been dispensing charity via his organization Alwaleed Philanthropies.

Abeer Al-Fouti runs the global side of that enterprise and is convinced that only a global approach will work in the face of the biggest health challenge for nearly a century.

“The simple message is that actually COVID-19, despite all the challenges, whether economic, or emotional or health or luck, has one important lesson that we have all learned, or should learn: That we are one world, we are one.

“If you think selfishly, it is going to come back and haunt you anyway. So this is the time when we all need to come together and think we are one. Otherwise, we are all going to go down together,” she told Arab News.

As one of the ambitious young women coming to prominence as part of the Vision 2030 strategy of female empowerment, she obviously takes great pride in her work.

“This year we’re celebrating 40 years of our existence. If I can summarize it in numbers, we’ve been working for four decades in six continents, serving 200 countries with 355 global partners. We’ve finished 1,000 projects and spent over $4 billion, and we reached one billion beneficiaries across the world. That’s our latest update. And it’s all run by 10 Saudi females from Riyadh,” she said.

Alwaleed Philanthropies plays a major role in charitable giving within the Kingdom, supporting organizations and individuals across the spectrum of community development, health, education and empowerment. But Al-Fouti’s responsibilities are more global.

“I believe philanthropy pays a major role in filling the gap, with a regional platform bringing the government and private sector together, and focusing on those who maybe the system does not serve or does not cover. This is why His Royal Highness called us together, to do our research and then to explain who we think we should support,” she said.

“We decided to focus on those that were most vulnerable in the Arab world, in the Middle East and Africa,” she said.

Fighting the pandemic has been the main focus for the organization since the virus broke on the world earlier this year. In April, Alwaleed Philanthropies gave an extra $20 million to provide medical and economic help to poorer countries during the pandemic, bringing its total COVID-19 support to $30 million, on top of its usual budget.

“In these times of unprecedented crisis it is more important now than ever that we pull our resources together in the battle against COVID-19. With many developed nations struggling to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, we must spare a thought for the developing countries of Africa and the less fortunate countries in the Middle East,” Prince Alwaleed said then.

“I’m sure you know it’s in the DNA of our culture and our religion — giving and charity. Everyone is required to give as part of the culture,’ Al-Fouti added. Alwaleed’s work runs alongside an equally generous program of charitable initiatives funded by the government of Saudi Arabia for projects both within the Kingdom itself and the rest of the world.

Maintaining the international partnerships that have been cultivated over the decades is a vital part of her work. The Gates Foundation, Gavi, the vaccination organisation, the World Health Organization and the United Nations are important allies in the global sphere.

“We have criteria for selection, and mainly we want to work with partners that are credible and share common values, and those which have long-term impact, in addition to other criteria. We have a detailed list of criteria and we tick those which have compatibility, reliability and credibility. We have to ensure that the money we give will reach those in need,” she said.

Another important ally is the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, ISESCO, which has partnered with Alwaleed on many regional projects.

“We support initiatives in 200 countries, regardless of gender, race or religion — as long as they have shared values,” she explained.

——-

BIO

Born: Alkhobar, Saudi Arabia

Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in health and hospital administration, King Saud University

Career: Various roles in government and private sector in human development, management and public relations

– CEO Al-Khair

– Partner, RVCC property development

– Co-founder, Smile Productions

– Executive manager, Global initiatives, Alwaleed Philanthropies

——-

Those initiatives fall into four main categories. Community development involves work on essential infrastructure — housing projects, employment initiatives and educational opportunities to help achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Second comes empowerment initiatives for women and young people. In partnership with international institutions such as the UN, Alwaleed works to enhance opportunities for underprivileged women across the Middle East and Africa and to advance the interests of the big youthful demographic in the region. “We want people to become self-sufficient and empowered, Al-Fouti said.

For example, Alwaleed was a leading partner in the Turquoise Mountain project in Afghanistan, which sought to revive traditional craft industries in the war-ravaged country, providing employment for thousands of women and young people and helping to restore traditional buildings for use as medical and educational facilities.

Next comes disaster relief, again often in conjunction with UN organizations. Alwaleed played an active role in helping Albania to recover from the recent earthquake there, for example.

Finally, there is what Al-Fouti regards as her “favourite” work — the initiatives to “bridge cultures” through educational and cultural activities in several countries. Alwaleed is involved in projects in the Louvre in Paris and with Berlin Museum to explain Islamic culture to Europeans.

“We believe the best way for people to understand each other is through art and culture. We’re planning to work this year with all our educational centres, and with the Louvre and Berlin, to see how we can revisit this strategy and see how we can have more impactful projects in terms of bringing people together,” she said.

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But the reaction to the pandemic has understandably taken up a lot of the organization’s time this year.

“We decide to get in and minimize or control the spread of the virus by strengthening local capabilities, for example through or work with ISESCO. In Africa they asked us to provide them with masks and with alcohol cleaning products. We decided that we were also going to go in and create or scale up factories, get jobs going and make the initiative available and sustainable, and this is what we are doing,” Al-Fouti said.

Through the collaboration with Gavi, Alwaleed has been able to bring medical relief to remote areas in the region. One of the repercussions of the pandemic has been that other essential medical projects, such as polio vaccination or routine immunization for children, have been scaled back drastically, partly because of travel restrictions but also because of the pressure on funds.

“In some places when people were being asked to stay at home, some didn’t have a home to go to. They were asked to wash their hands and they didn’t have water. That’s why we invested in areas where we thought there is a gap,” Al-Fouti explained.

So, those 10 women in Riyadh have the support and back-up of hundreds of partners around the world, with a global perspective in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

“We have partners and embedded collaborative relationships that we consider to be an extension of our team. So we are not alone. There is a saying ‘work smart, not hard.’ But we work hard as well. In fact, we really do work hard,” she said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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