Saudi Arabia celebrates major leap in social equality

Time: 10 December 2020

In recent years, Saudis have enjoyed significant advances in the area of human rights. (AN photo)
  • Saudi Arabia has been working to promote sustainable development, the rule of law, justice and equality: rights chief

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia continues to make great strides in peace, justice and equality — hallmarks of a sustainable society. As the world celebrates UN Human Rights Day, Arab News looks back at the Kingdom’s achievements in 2020.
In recent years, Saudis have enjoyed significant advances in the area of human rights. The right for women to drive, the abolition of male guardianship over women and women’s ability to travel without male permission show that the Kingdom continues to make significant progress.
But equally important for human rights in the Kingdom was the easing of the sponsorship (kafala) system for migrant workers and contributions to the fight for gender equality.
In a statement marking Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, Saudi Human Rights Commission chief Dr. Awwad Al-Awwad said that the Kingdom under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been working to promote sustainable development, the rule of law, justice and equality.
“To this end, the Saudi leadership has implemented unprecedented human rights reforms, with more than 70 resolutions, and fulfilled all the commitments it made,” he said.
Al-Awwad said that this commitment reflects the support and attention that Saudi Arabia accords to human rights under its Vision 2030 reform program.
As the number of COVID-19 cases continued to rise in Saudi Arabia, King Salman ordered free treatment be provided to all coronavirus patients in government and private health facilities, even those in violation of residency laws.
The royal decree, born out of the king’s wish to put the health of citizens and residents first, and to ensure the safety of all, was delivered by the Saudi Health Minister, Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, on March 30 — a move few countries were able to match.

HIGHLIGHTS

• King Salman ordered free treatment be provided to all coronavirus patients in government and private health facilities, even those in violation of residency laws.

• Saudi Arabia eased the sponsorship system for migrant workers.

• The Kingdom allowed women to drive, abolished male guardianship over women.

“Saudi Arabia has given great importance and attention to fighting the pandemic both on the internal and external level,” Al-Awwad said.
In November, the Kingdom eased the sponsorship system for foreign expat workers, including contract restrictions that gave employers control over the lives of around 10 million migrant workers.
The new reforms will allow private sector workers to change jobs and leave the country without an employer’s consent.
Salma Al-Rashid, chief advocacy officer of the Al-Nahda Philanthropic Society for Women and Women 20 sherpa who has represented Saudi Arabia at the W20 since 2018, said that the G20 offered Saudi women unprecedented access to conversations that dictated their futures.
“The W20 this year allowed us to create a bridge between global and local conversations on what matters most to women and how we can ensure women’s economic empowerment,” she said.
According to a World Bank report released in January, the Saudi economy has made “the biggest progress globally toward gender equality since 2017.”
The study, which tracks how laws affect women in 190 economies, scored the Kingdom’s economy 70.6 points out of 100, a dramatic increase from its previous score of 31.8 points.
Issam Abu Sulaiman, the bank’s regional director for the GCC, said of the report: “Saudi Arabia, basically, has become one of the leaders in the Arab world in terms of women’s empowerment.”
Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to the US, also commented on the past few years’ developments in women’s rights in the country.
“These new regulations are history in the making. They call for the equal engagement of women and men in our society. It is a holistic approach to gender equality that will unquestionably create real change for Saudi women,” she tweeted.
Hanan Al-Hamad, a Saudi human rights activist and opinion writer, told Arab News that the Kingdom was doing a “remarkable job” regarding the strengthening of human rights in the country.
“Congratulations to our civil society in which human rights have become a source of strength and pride,” she said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia in top 20 list for coronavirus research globally

Time: 08 December 2020

A Saudi nurse checks a patient’s temperature at a mobile clinic catering for the residents of Ajyad Almasafi district in the holy city of Mecca. (AFP)
  • Saudi researcher discovers low-cost early detection method for COVID-19

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s commitment to global research on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spans several fields, with one receiving a US patent and trademark for early detection methods.

According to Saudi Education Minister Dr. Hamad Al-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia was ranked first in the Arab world and 17th globally for Saudi universities’ efforts to publish research on COVID-19, accounting for 1.8 percent of global research production.
Drawn from the Kingdom’s MERS experience, a number of COVID-19-related scientific findings and publications were readied and published in record time.
An innovative COVID-19 detection and diagnostic method by one Saudi researcher was registered at the US Patent and Trademark Office. The method uses a low-cost technology and produces results in record time, without using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis.
Speaking to Arab News, Dr. Hani Abdullah Al-Hadrami, a consultant and associate professor of molecular diagnostics and medical biotechnology at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, explained that the idea behind his innovation focuses on the development of an economical, sensitive and rapid diagnostic platform for the detection of COVID-19.
“The novel platform is a simple diagnostic sensor that can be used by unskilled personnel, such as nurses in the field, or that can be employed in a physician’s office,” Al-Hadrami said. Explaining the method, he said that the sample is directly applied to a sensing platform without the use of any processing equipment and is low in cost, compared to PCR analysis. This technology replaces the need for specialized laboratories and devices to detect COVID-19. It can also be carried to public places where tests and results can be ready in a few minutes.

FASTFACT

An innovative COVID-19 detection and diagnostic method by one Saudi researcher was registered at the US Patent and Trademark Office. The method uses a low-cost technology and produces results in record time, without using PCR analysis.

“The technology requires neither medical experts nor specialized laboratories to operate it. It is easy to use in airports, for example, to examine pilgrims who come to visit Makkah and Madinah before they can reach the holy sites. It would be useful during Hajj and in any public places where people normally gather in large numbers,” he added. “We have identified and validated a probe, which is specific for COVID-19 and which will be integrated with conventional and commercially available fluorometers to be used as a screening assay to make it durable and portable so it can be carried in hospital emergency rooms and clinics.”

Al-Hadrami pointed out that the proposed platform will offer a low-detection limit that will meet the infectious dose and eliminate laborious lab-processing techniques.
“It will encourage the development of new technology that provides low-cost, in-situ testing to facilitate treatment, both saving time and enabling the correct action to be taken with minimal interventions,” he said.
Al-Hadrami noted that this integrated approach will result in cost-efficient, rapid and accurate detection of COVID-19 with immediate, targeted treatment, eliminating the need for any sample processing.
“This innovation will show the whole world that Saudis, like any other scientists in developed countries, have contributed to finding innovative solutions for the detection and diagnosis of COVID-19,” he said.
“This will greatly help in controlling the virus and preventing its spread by identifying infected people. When manufactured and produced, this technology will make a great return on the local national economy as it is exported to countries across the world,” he said in a tweet.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi crown prince calls for global collaboration to unlock benefits of AI for all

Time: 22 October 2020  

October 2020
  • The COVID-19 crisis has provided an extraordinary opportunity to explore the potential of artificial intelligence, he says

RIYADH: As the world faces unprecedented challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year offers the perfect opportunity to test the potential of artificial intelligence, according to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

In a speech on Wednesday on the opening day of the two-day Global AI Summit hosted by Riyadh — which was delivered on his behalf by Abdullah Al-Ghamdi, president of Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence — the crown prince also called for the nations of the world to work together to develop the capabilities of AI so that its benefits are available to all.

He began by highlighting the Kingdom’s desire to play a prominent part in the global development of AI to “unleash its potential for the good of all humanity.”

He said: “2020, undoubtedly, has been an extraordinary year to test the potential of AI, as we witness the formation of a new global normal that is redefining our ways of life, working and learning.

“This requires all of us to think and work hard to take advantage of artificial intelligence and unleash its full potential to advance our societies and economies.”

In recognition of the importance of the technology, the crown prince announced the launch of a national strategy for data and AI, with the aim of positioning Saudi Arabia at the forefront of AI research and development.

“I hereby invite all dreamers, innovators, investors and thinkers to join us, here in the Kingdom, to achieve our ambitions together and to build a pioneering model; to unlock the value of data and AI in order to build knowledge-based economies and advance our present and future generations,” he added.

Acknowledging the digital gap that exists between developed and developing countries, which has widened as a result of the coronavirus crisis, the crown prince said that the Kingdom is working to close this gap so that all nations can benefit from the potential of AI.

“I invite you all to work in a spirit of cooperation to shape the future of artificial intelligence in a way that serves all societies, prioritizes collaboration over competition, and focuses on reliable and responsible uses and applications of AI to serve humanity.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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