The coronavirus (MERS) crisis and the scare it is giving to society should be viewed as a test case.
We have been hearing about this virus for almost two years and every report on MERS has been followed by reports from the Ministry of Health's Public Relations Department that all is well and that everything is under control.
However, the outbreak of this virus, the rising number of infected people, the increasing death toll and above all the mishandling in communicating what has been happening have caused a panic. We read from foreign sources about passengers from the Kingdom who arrive in other countries infected with the disease and a couple of these people have died.
The lack of transparency and information and the general mishandling of the medical crisis have contributed to further mental aggravation.
The appointment of the Minister of Labor Adel Fakeih as the Acting Minster of Health and his immediate setting up of a task force of local and foreign experts has provided some relief. The Acting Minister's visits to hospitals in ordinary clothes without the formal Saudi cloak and an army of the Ministry's public relations staff have also been welcome. This was a genuine act, not meant for public consumption but for tackling this dangerous situation in the proper way.
Crisis management and damage control are two aspects of public relations that the Ministry’s PR officials know little about it. Their job has always been to polish the image of senior officials, highlight their visits and glorify their contribution, a lot of which is just on paper!
In the light of this, Adel Fakeih’s visits to hospitals, his assurance of transparency and his statement that the public has a right to information and is a partner in overcoming the difficult situation are all noteworthy.
This is what is expected of public officials. This is why the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has chosen them.
However, the problem does not lie here but rather with their subordinates who choose to be like feudal lords. And I am not exaggerating. For years people have been talking about poor services, unhygienic conditions and even corruption in our hospitals.
Take for example King Fahd General Hospital in Jeddah. I have visited it several times. It is not a pleasant sight. From its entrance, to the way patients are handled to its waste disposal management, it is far from meeting any international standard.
A thorough audit of the operational and financial state of the Ministry of Health should be conducted. Those involved in any mismanagement should be taken to task. Billions are being spent while by and large the health care services provided to the public are shoddy.
Furthermore, no promotions should be given to senior ministry staff until they leave their offices and go and work in hospitals to see for themselves the pain of the patients and junior staff. This has been done recently in the UK. It is also clear that we have to implement emergency epidemic outbreak procedures. Let us make use of the expertise available in centers abroad like the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Ministry of Health should set up task forces across the country in each city to scrutinize the management of hospitals to see that everything is up to the proper standard. Nepotism, greed and corruption should be erased immediately. And you don’t need to be a doctor to manage the Ministry of Health. As far as I can remember most US Secretaries of Defense were CEOs of large companies. They were from the business world.
What we need are good managers who in turn appoint good professionals to operate and manage a health care system that is a credit to the nation and its people.
We will not be satisfied with anything less than that.
– The writer is Editor-at-Large. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena