By MUHAMMAD HUMAIDAN & SAEED AL-BATATI
JEDDAH/SANAA- Mar 1, 2011- Many people who live on the Saudi-Yemen border fear that a fatal disease that has been responsible for dozens of deaths in Yemen’s western coastal area could cross into the Kingdom.
At least 65 deaths have been reported in Yemen’s western coastal province of Hodeidah.
The disease is thought to be chikungunya, though some medical officers dispute it. Symptoms of chikungunya include kidney failure, high temperature, diarrhea and vomiting.
Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh has formed a committee to monitor the spread of the disease and the country’s authorities are working hard to keep it in check.
Dr. Mohsen Al-Tobaiki, director of health in Jazan, said the Saudi authorities have been following developments across the border. Dr. Khaled Al-Mirghalani, spokesman for the Ministry of Health, and Dr. Ziyad Mishmish, undersecretary for preventive medicine, were unavailable for comment.
A number of medical and environmental experts in Jazan said there is a possibility of the disease entering the Kingdom through unregistered migrants who do not carry health certificates proving they have taken necessary vaccinations. They added that at the moment the border provinces in the south of the Kingdom are free from the disease.
According to Yemeni media, people in the Hodeidah area were shocked at the loss of life. Arafat Maki, a local journalist who contracted the illness, said the disease has caused panic in the area.
“Lots of people are thought to have died. The health facilities in Hodeidah and hospitals are working overtime to cope with the influx of patients,” he said. The disease is locally known as Al-Mukarfess.
Dr. Abdul Hakim Al-Khohlaini, manager of the epidemiological surveillance department at the Yemeni Ministry of Health, said that samples sent to Cairo for tests showed that the disease is chikungunya. He added that local doctors have also found other diseases in the area.
“Forty-five percent of the cases are chikungunya, 10 percent malaria and the rest dengue fever,” he said.
According to Al-Khohlaini, 61 people have died so far. “Some of the dead are very old and most of the cases haven't been verified by laboratories,” he said.
“Saudi health officials called us and inquired about the spread of a disease in the border provinces. We told them that it is chikungunya and assured them that the disease is under control and far away from the Saudi border,” he said.
However, another medical source gave a different assessment of the situation. Dr. Najeeb Molha, head of the Hodeidah doctors' syndicate who is also working with disease-fighting teams, said the disease is not chikungunya. “Chikungunya doesn't claim this high number of lives. Chikungunya sprung up in the area in the last three months of 2010 and does not exist anymore,” he said.
Molha said the symptoms of the disease are fever, diarrhea, renal failure and sudden increase in the number of white blood cells and granulocytes. “To my knowledge, 65 people have died because of the disease and 250 people are in hospitals. I think it is a kind of hemorrhagic fever. Our interference has helped in bringing down the number of victims and lessening the panic,” he said.
Molha said the Yemeni Ministry of Health is reluctant to reveal the results of tests, something that Al-Khohlaini has denied.
The director of Hodeidah's provincial health office refused to comment on the matter, saying he is waiting for the minister of health to complete his investigations.
Chikungunya, a mosquito-borne disease with symptoms similar to dengue fever, occurs mainly in Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent.
More than 100 people were reported to have died of the disease in India's southern Kerala state following an outbreak 2006 and 2007.
Source: ARAB NEWS