Expat Health Centres Closed As Deadly Virus Spreads

Lisa Smith, BA (Hons), CeFA

A government investigation of health testing for expats in Saudi Arabia has seen 12 medical centres shut after revealing poor standards and bad management.

The health tests are part of the Saudi process for granting expat visas and residency permits.

Expats are not allowed to work or live in the country without passing a health check.

The investigation was sparked by the spread of the deadly Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in the country.

The inquiry was triggered as nearly 300 people died after contracting the virus, which has no known cure.

More than 600 cases have been identified in Saudi Arabia, while the virus has spread worldwide with several cases reported in 20 other countries.

MERS blamed for deaths

The World Health Organisation (WHO) blames the contagion on pilgrimages by overseas visitors to Saudi Arabian holy sites.

MERS was previously detected in camels and monkeys, but has crossed-over to humans.

One theory is that victims contracted the virus by eating infected camel meat and then spread the disease by coming into contact with other pilgrims and travellers on aircraft travelling home.

The medical centres treated many of the infected victims.

Inspections found doctors and nurses failed to isolate and keep track of blood samples, kept poor medical records and suffered from hygiene issues that could have led to MERS cross-contamination of patients.

The Saudi government found problems at 14 centres and closed 12 for decontamination and staff training to try to contain the MERS outbreak.

Cover up accusations

The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) is warning expats and travellers to avoid all but essential trips to Saudi Arabia to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus.

Cases have already been reported in the UK, USA and Europe, with two new cases identified each in Algeria and Iran during the past few days.

All the new cases involved pilgrims returning from visits to holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

The WHO has argued with Saudi health authorities over the true number of MERS victims and deaths. The government has been accused of trying to play down the death toll so pilgrims were not discouraged from visiting the country.

Symptoms of the virus include fevers, coughing and muscle cramps. The sickness then leads to pneumonia and kidney failure causing death in about 40% of cases.

The Saudi government denies massaging MERS statistics and has taken action in recent weeks to combat the spread of the virus.

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