Wed. Mar 29th, 2023
JEDDAH: Health officials in Europe and the Americas are raising the alarm over the spread of monkeypox, with many declaring the outbreak a public-health emergency.
In Saudi Arabia, by contrast, where just three cases have been confirmed, the response has been more muted.
Saudi experts say there are several reasons for the Kingdom’s restrained approach, including the presence of well-established surveillance, detection and preventative measures resulting from its handling of previous infectious-disease outbreaks, and the extremely low transmission rate seen in the region.
“We know that especially in the Gulf region and in Saudi Arabia, there have been many efforts to document increasing cases and implement rigorous methods for detecting them, making sure that the right preventative and curative measures are in place to prevent the spread of monkeypox, as well as treating it right away from a medical standpoint,” Dr. Nawaf Albali, a Saudi physician, told Arab News.
“Countries have to implement the proper monitoring and surveillance standards on the borders and increase screening, increase diagnostic capabilities within and beyond borders.”

Once a relatively rare disease, monkeypox has been present in a handful of central and west African countries since the 1970s, with occasional outbreaks of no more than 100 cases over the past four decades. 
People with the illness tend to develop a rash that may be located on or near the genitals or anus, and on other areas such as the hands, feet, chest, face or mouth.
The rash will go through several stages, including scabs, before healing. It can initially look like pimples or blisters, and may be painful or itchy. 
Other symptoms can include fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, exhaustion, muscle aches, backache, headaches, a sore throat, nasal congestion or a cough.
These symptoms usually start within three weeks of exposure to the monkeypox virus, and will typically last two to four weeks.  
Authorities have detected dozens of cases across Europe, North America and beyond since May, breaking the 28,000-case mark worldwide.
The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency on July 23. To date, there have been at least 75 suspected monkeypox deaths in Africa, mainly in Nigeria and Congo.
On July 29, Brazil and Spain both reported deaths linked to monkeypox, the first reported outside Africa. Spain reported a second death the next day, and India reported its first on Aug. 1.
Just three cases of monkeypox have been detected in Saudi Arabia, among passengers returning from Europe.
Regionally, the UAE has 16 confirmed cases and Qatar has two — indicative of a much slower spread compared to other parts of the world.
Monkeypox is transmitted when a person comes into contact with the eponymous virus from an animal, human or contaminated material.
It often spreads through skin-to-skin contact, and many, though not all, cases have been through physical relations between men.
“The way it spreads is either through skin-to-skin contact, or through contact with certain body fluids, for example sweat, or exposure to sensitive parts in the body like the genitals or private parts,” said Albali. 
“This type of contact and this kind of intimate contact aren’t that common (in the Gulf). It doesn’t mean that they’re not there, but they’re not as common.”
Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Angari, assistant professor of epidemiology at King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences in Riyadh, said although the WHO has declared monkeypox a public-health emergency of international concern, it is not yet a pandemic.
“The rate of infection is slow and limited considering the transmission pathways of the virus,” he told Arab News. 
To calculate an odds ratio (a statistic that quantifies the strength of the association between two events), a sufficient number of cases needs to be considered. To date, there have been too few cases in the Kingdom to draw conclusions. 
“More detailed information about the cases such as survey investigation (demographic data, history, practices, traveling information etc.) is needed,” said Al-Angari. 
Saudi Arabia and several other countries have taken necessary steps to gather such real-time data and prevent the spread — lessons that were learned from previous viral outbreaks.
In 2012, the first case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome caused by the MERS coronavirus was identified in Saudi Arabia.
Studies have shown that humans are infected through direct or indirect contact with infected dromedary camels, but the exact transmission route remains unclear. 
The experience prompted the Kingdom to develop detection and containment strategies and infrastructure, which swung into action in 2020 when COVID-19 emerged.
The Ministry of Health launched a command-and-control center, and accelerated the establishment of the Saudi Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Our experience with MERS-CoV was painful and peculiar in our region, and between 2013 and 2015, health authorities understood the magnitude of disease prevention, lockdowns, closing of markets and certain commercial activities related to camels,” said Albali.
“So we understand the effectiveness of early intervention when it comes to disease control. We’ve developed that kind of capability and the sense of urgency around the world health system.”
Reiterating the importance of early detection and documenting cases, Al-Angari said: “The global health systems developed critically after the recent pandemic in data collection, surveillance and tracking systems. 
“With this, contact tracing is a must to prevent the upcoming introduction of the virus to new populations.
“Although it might not be necessary now, using systems such as the Tawakkalna app might be considered at some point.”
The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority developed Tawakkalna to support the government’s efforts to confront COVID-19 by managing the process of granting permits for leaving home during the lockdown phase, which helped limit the spread of the virus. 
In June, the app received the UN Public Service Award 2022 for institutional resilience and innovative responses to the pandemic.
With travel demand skyrocketing after the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions, Al-Angari underscored the importance of monitoring points of entry. 
“Since the (monkeypox) virus is transmitted from human to human, all necessary arrangements should be implemented,” he said.
“Activation of thermal cameras is necessary at all times, not only for this disease but for all future ones, and random health screening of people who are in contact with animals on a regular basis is important to prevent zoonotic diseases.”
Just like the early days of COVID-19, infrared cameras placed at airport arrival halls are an integral part of the syndromic surveillance process — a process of collecting, analyzing and interpreting health-related data to provide an early warning of health threats.
“Once a camera detects one of the symptoms of the illness (such as elevated body temperature), the case is isolated at the airport, and as part of Saudi Arabia’s preventive measures, other individuals that could’ve potentially been exposed to the case must also be tested,” said Albali.
“That’s how the cases were detected, and an investigation was launched after, with no other cases detected to date.”

Beyond surveillance, according to Albali, health authorities must provide sufficient information and guidelines for travelers heading to countries considered monkeypox hotspots.
“The main lesson learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is a heightened community awareness about the virus and how to protect themselves,” he said.
“The same rule of thumb now applies to this current outbreak, even though it’s barely made a mark on our shores in Saudi Arabia, and with the transparent communication strategy by health authorities, the level of awareness will continue to increase and further protect the community from future outbreaks.” 
Monkeypox immunization programs have been launched in the US, the UK, Denmark, Spain, Germany, France and Canada among other countries. However, Saudi Arabia is unlikely to launch a vaccine rollout unless it becomes necessary for the purpose of protecting the most vulnerable, such as children, the elderly and the immunocompromised.
Although monkeypox in most cases has no complications, the Saudi Ministry of Health told Arab News that the vaccine is available as a precautionary measure and is given only to people who are at higher risk for infection because they have had contact with confirmed cases.
“Vaccines can be implemented,” said epidemiologist Al-Angari with the caveat that distribution on a mass community level is unlikely to happen in the Kingdom because monkeypox “isn’t a current threat, at least (not) in this region.”

NEW DELHI: There is great potential for partnerships between Saudi Arabia and India on climate action in the run-up up to this year’s G20 summit and beyond, according to Dr. Ausaf Sayeed, the secretary for consular, passport, visa and overseas Indian affairs at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.
During a briefing in New Delhi, he said both countries are leading players in their respective regions in terms of environmental action and the battle against climate change.
“India and Saudi Arabia are emerging economies as well as members of the G20,” Sayeed told Arab News. “As responsible regional leaders, both countries have committed to fighting against climate change and environmental degradation, through ambitious initiatives.”
Since India assumed the year-long rotating presidency of the G20 on Dec. 1, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set numerous targets for climate action, green development and climate finance, and Sayeed predicted strong partnerships with Saudi Arabia on these issues in the near future.
“I am sure that the coming months and years will see our relations strengthen in several new areas, including renewable energy and green hydrogen, petrochemicals, pharma … and other new technologies.”
He described existing relations between the Kingdom and India as close and said they have only become stronger as a result of their shared views and goals on climate action.
“The relationship between India and Saudi Arabia is historic and is assuming new dimensions and heights each passing day,” Sayeed said.
“I am very hopeful for a great future for both of our countries with our young populations and visionary leadership.”
The establishment of the Indian-Saudi Strategic Partnership Council in 2019, featuring high-level representatives up to and including prime minister and crown prince, had helped propel bilateral relations to new heights, he added.
“The ministerial-level meetings of the Strategic Partnership Council took place in 2022 and we are looking forward to the first meeting of the council between Prime Minister Modi and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman soon,” Sayeed said.
He noted that relations between India and Saudi Arabia have been significantly enhanced and strengthened in recent years in many fields, including politics, commerce, energy, defense, security and culture.
“You may expect more political and economic engagements between the two countries this year, both bilaterally and through G20,” he added.
Both nations have invested heavily in new technologies, such as green hydrogen, and “there are great opportunities for us to work together both at government and private-sector levels in these areas,” said Sayeed.
He also highlighted some of the Kingdom’s efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, including its decision to join the International Solar Alliance in 2019 and its launch of the Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives in 2021.
“We welcome the Saudi Green Initiative and Middle East Green Initiative and have participated in their meetings,” he added. “We hope to contribute further to the work on climate change during our presidency of G20 this year.”
RIYADH:  Saudi Arabia’s aid agency distributed about 4,500 food packages to more than 28,000 people in Afghanistan, Niger, Ethiopia, and Somalia, state news agency (SPA) reported.
King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) delivered on Sunday 500 food parcels in flood-stricken Afghanistan, benefiting 3,000 people in Logar Province.
As part of a humanitarian project to support drought-affected communities, KSRelief teams distributed 1,548 parcels to 9,288 people in Ethiopia, and 1,500 more food packages to 9,000 beneficiaries in Somalia.
In Niger, 7,176 people received 1,000 food packages.
In a statement, KSRelief said the distribution reflects the Kingdom’s mission to enhance food security and support the disadvantaged across the world.
JEDDAH: After several years in the making, Jeddah’s Islamic Arts Biennale is offering visitors from across the Kingdom and around the globe ‘eye-opening’ access to Islamic art.
Themed “Awwal Bait,” or “The First House,” the event is taking place at the 1983 Aga Khan award-winning Western Hajj Terminal, which began accepting guests on the Jan. 23 launch.
The 118,000-square-meter space is housing five galleries, two pavilions and one grand canopy, 280 artifacts, as well as more than 50 new commissioned artworks from around the Muslim world.
Rakan Al-Touq, the vivacious vice chair of the Diriyah Biennale Foundation, and also general supervisor of cultural affairs and international relations at the Ministry of Culture, hailed the event’s launch success.
Wearing a crisp white thobe and flashing a genuine smile, Al-Touq was visibly moved by how the event came together.
“We were super excited — this is a project a few years in the making, since 2019. It’s also been a passion project for me, personally. And we have a stellar group of people who came together for this project — a small but mighty team,” he told Arab News.
Al-Touq stressed the need for non-commercial experiences in which all hands are brought on deck to elevate concepts and cultures within Islamic art.
Bringing together never-before-seen priceless artifacts juxtaposed with freshly commissioned contemporary pieces within the space was like building a jigsaw puzzle from scratch, he added.
• Bringing together never-before-seen priceless artifacts juxtaposed with freshly commissioned contemporary pieces within the space was like building a jigsaw puzzle from scratch, said Rakan Al-Touq, the vice chair of the Diriyah Biennale Foundation.
• The Islamic Arts Biennale is also meant to serve as a global reframe of Islamic art as a discipline, with the diversity of curators at the Islamic Arts Biennale a notable achievement.
To create a cohesive and visually stunning space in which different areas and sensibilities were represented was quite a feat, Al-Touq said. Securing the iconic location to launch the world’s very first Islamic biennale was also significant to him and the team, he added.
Al-Touq said that the cooperation and support from the Saudi leadership, including Prince Badr Al-Saud, the minister of culture and governor of the Royal Commission for AlUla, has ensured the success of the monumental project.
The vice-chair’s praise went beyond the glamorous opening night ceremony, attended by many members of the royal family and public.
He took pride in the fact that half of the artists taking part in the event are Saudi.
“In 2019, we were planning for 2023 and the meeting point of doing something that is so, frankly, related to the identity of the Ministry of Culture and to Saudi Arabia, in a format that has never been done.
“To think about a biennale format for Islamic arts, that can bring together ancient history and current, and hopefully inspire future productions of art, just felt like the right thing to do.
We’re just really moved and we just feel like students, wide-eyed observing and learning, and taking it all in. It’s going to be amazing to take that all back into our classrooms.
Dr. Stephennie Mulder, Professor in Islamic Art at University of Austin, US
“The team and the Diriyah Biennale Foundation started looking at options of locations and how we ended up here at the Hajj Terminal is also an important thing,” Al-Touq said.
CEO of the Diriyah Biennale Foundation Aya Al-Bakree, Al-Touq’s co-pilot in launching the event, said: “We are keen for people to join the dialog and experience the sense of community that the faith can evoke through art.”
The Islamic Arts Biennale is also meant to serve as a global reframe of Islamic art as a discipline , with the diversity of curators at the Islamic Arts Biennale a notable achievement.
Jennifer Pruitt, assistant professor in Islamic Art History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, traveled from the US to the Kingdom to visit the biennale with her friend, Dr. Stephennie Mulder, a professor in Islamic Art at the University of Austin, US.
Although immersed in the Middle East through their work, the two had very few expectations but were cautiously optimistic about their first visit to the Kingdom.
Before basking in the works displayed at the Islamic Arts Biennale, they spent eight whirlwind hours in Madinah and managed to explore AlUla before arriving in Jeddah.
“It’s been a really exciting and overwhelming experience. My friend and I are here together and we’re both professors of Islamic arts. We’ve read about this space — we’ve read about Saudi Arabia,” Pruitt said.
“I knew that people would be friendly and warm, which everyone has been, in fact. We were commenting on the fact that unlike any trip we’ve taken, we literally haven’t encountered anyone that has been rude or annoying.
“Really everyone has been exceptionally warm and forthcoming,” she told Arab News.
“We’ve been to a lot of Islamic art shows and I think I think we all … we both agree that this is kind of in a really high category of quality and ambition, and execution,” she added.
The pair’s trip to Madinah was eye-opening — something that they were happy to experience first before venturing to the biennale.
“It was really powerful to see people kind of streaming to this sacred spot in Madinah. It was incredibly moving,” Mulder told Arab News.
“What we teach in our classes, which is that the power of Islam is all of these people converging like that … that that the power is not in the relic or in the architecture, but in these places where people pray … and I think that was really embodied seeing all these people from all over the world streaming into Madinah,” she added.
Due to earlier periods of restrictions, Saudi Arabia had been absent from the center of the Islamic art world for a long time.
But the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and the introduction of tourist visas as well as academic trips has sought to change that.
“For me, like Jennifer, I just wanted to come here and be a student, and learn and observe,” Mulder said.
“We have this feeling that we’re here at the moment … of a people really discovering and being proud of and being able to construct their national narrative collectively.
“And having the freedom to do that — maybe for the first time very openly, and with a kind of joy.”
Both professors said that the enriching experience has encouraged them to change the way they teach upon their return to the US.
Although a picture is worth a thousand words, the pair said that Islamic art archive images are often “sterile,” and fail to encapsulate the feeling of experiencing art in person.
The sensation of standing beneath a monument while the Adhan (call to prayer) reverberates cannot be replicated through archives, they said.
The two professors are also keen to work and collaborate with Saudi archaeologists.
“We’re just really moved and we just feel like students, wide-eyed observing and learning, and taking it all in. It’s going to be amazing to take that all back into our classrooms,” Mulder said.
“I’m going to teach differently now; it’s kind of been percolating for a few days. I was telling Jennifer, even to have photographs of things we didn’t know before.
“We’re both architectural historians — it’s really important for us to have a sense of space and how people move through it.”
The biennale is free of charge for all visitors. It is also hosting 117 education workshops and more than 25 panel discussions.
The public programming schedule, including talks and screenings, is updated in real time.
The Islamic Arts Biennale, launched to the public on Jan. 23, will remain open until April 23.
Tickets can be booked via the official Diriyah Biennale website and on social media channels.
The space is open for visitors to roam the grounds and exhibits between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and Thursdays, and between 2 p.m.  and 11 p.m. on Fridays.
RIYADH: Mexican artisans are highlighting their creative skills at Boulevard World in Riyadh.
The site, which is Riyadh Season’s largest zone, is showcasing the cultural diversity of Asia, Africa, Europe, and the US in 10 specially designed areas.
Boulevard World offers a unique experience through the location’s restaurants, arts markets, cable car rides, games area and daily shows.
Mexican women can be viewed skillfully applying distinctive art to pottery to highlight their country’s rich artistic identity.
Meanwhile, other talented people, sporting Mexican hats, showcase dolls inspired by famous cartoon characters.
Visitors can also see a replica of the Chichen Itza pyramid — an archaeological site which is a popular tourist attraction — in the Mexican subzone, along with unique artifacts and sculptures from different civilizations.
While visitors to the American area can watch live Hollywood shows while enjoying the country’s signature dishes.
The Moroccan subzone puts its focus on history and culture, including a traditional wedding and a puppet show.
A lion show, dancing, dragons and folk music all give a taste of Chinese culture in that country’s subzone, while the French area boasts several highlights, including a silent show and the Eiffel Tower piano, making it one of the most popular attractions at Boulevard World.
The Indian subzone has been created to attract visitors with its diverse sights, sounds, and smells. Dance and music are central to the experience, and there is a film of the country’s most striking architecture, including the Taj Mahal.
MAKKAH: Makkah Gov. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal inaugurated the Hira Cultural District project on Sunday in a ceremony held at the district’s headquarters at the foot of Mount Hira in Makkah.
The Hira Cultural District aims to enrich the religious and cultural experience of visitors, especially at sites that hold historical importance for Muslims.
Saleh bin Ibrahim Al-Rasheed, CEO of the Royal Commission for Makkah City and Holy Sites, praised the unwavering support of the Makkah governor for the project.
Al-Rasheed said that he is hopeful the project will succeed in its objectives as part of Saudi Vision 2030.
The project is implemented by Samaya Investment Co. in cooperation with other competent entities. It consists of the Revelation Gallery, the Holy Qur’an Museum, and various cultural elements and services.
The district seeks to be a suitable family place with a hall dedicated to children, where they can enjoy various entertaining and educational activities. Visitors will also be able to have a good time at the Hira park, enjoying nature, cafes, restaurants, and other facilities.
The Revelation Gallery will highlight the revelations made to the Prophet Muhammed through an advanced technical presentation. The visitor can enjoy a real-dimension model of Hira cave where he is believed to have received the first revelation of the Holy Qur’an.
The Revelation Gallery aims to acquaint visitors with the history and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad’s mission, through presentations from the pre-Islamic era to the present.
The Holy Qur’an Museum introduces the sacred text, spreads its message and universality, and depicts its impact on the lives of Muslims through a wide system of modern technologies and distinctive collectibles, in addition to displaying a collection of precious manuscripts.
Work is also underway to execute a road equipped with signs and safety measures for those wishing to climb the mountain to reach the cave.
The district seeks to be a suitable family place with a hall dedicated to children, where they can enjoy various entertaining and educational activities.
Visitors will also be able to have a good time at the Hira park, enjoying nature, cafes, restaurants, and other facilities.
This is the first phase of the Hira Cultural District project, executed under the direct supervision of the Royal Commission for Makkah City and the Holy Sites, in cooperation with Makkah province, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Tourism, the Municipality of Makkah, the Pilgrims Service Program and the General Authority of Endowments.
It aims to develop the site in a manner befitting its historical status, and the status of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the cradle of Islam and home of various holy places and historical sites.


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