Saudi Arabia's Souq Okaz festival deemed a 'cultural incubator'

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Improvements in Souq Okaz festival did not happen overnight but were the result of the reflection and constructive criticism of what was offered every year. (AN photos by Ziyad Alarfaj)
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Updated 21 August 2019

Saudi Arabia's Souq Okaz festival deemed a 'cultural incubator'

  • Taif has always been a hub for thought, culture and literature, says Dr. Ayed Al-Zahrani

TAIF: Souq Okaz is the cultural heartbeat of Taif, intertwined with Arab countries since the birth of Islamic culture. Several intellectuals say that this year’s Souq Okaz festival, now in its 13th edition, has been unique, and the best manifestation of the event so far.
Dr. Ayed Al-Zahrani, director of the Taif Civilization History Center, told Arab News: “Okaz has become a cultural and literary manifestation created by both history and geography.”
He highlighted that 70 events have been carefully designed for the event, meandering from philosophy to poetry.
Al-Zahrani added that Okaz this year is a leap for Arab culture, and that Arabs from across the world look forward to the event. He pointed out that Taif has always been a hub for thought, culture and literature.
He said: “Knowledge, culture and literature are an integral legacy, and the language of Okaz has become intertwined in an era when we are most in need of the strength of our language, literature and tradition. Okaz restored the ‘Wheel of Time’ to form an Arab mosaic that is brought together by the homogeneous Arabism.”
Dr. Ahmed Al-Hilali, president of the creative Farqad team of the Taif Literary Club, said that the Souq Okaz festival, like any cultural project, started with a small idea and then grew and developed with care, supervision and reconsideration until it reached its current state.
He told Arab News that the current stage of Souq Okaz is the stage of blending literary and cultural creativity and breaking constraints to reach broader horizons for all segments of society.
Al-Hilali added: “Whoever visits Okaz speaks of the vision of Prince Khalid Al-Faisal on authenticity and modernity. The poetry contest in Okaz has evolved from popular circles to international ones that include direct competition between poets. With this, Okaz attracts all segments of society. Our ambition has changed from hosting one Arab country to hosting ten at once, all of which participate in the arts, theater and cultural events.”

FASTFACT

The poetry contest in Okaz has evolved from popular circles to international ones that include direct competition between poets.

He highlighted that these improvements in Okaz did not happen overnight but were the result of the reflection and constructive criticism on what was offered every year. “Okaz is a home for successful, dynamic and flexible cultural projects that are capable of evolving, expanding and renewing.”
Dramatist Turkiya Al-Thubaiti said: “Souq Okaz is important for Arab heritage and played a vital role during a certain era. It is also well known that it is now more important after a number of decades have passed.
“Souq Okaz is a beating heart in our Saudi history; its role is to revive the past. For years it has improved,” she added.
Al-Thubaiti pointed out that opinions on how Souq Okaz should be in order to meet modern needs varied. “Souq Okaz this year has attracted the public’s attention as well as that of the elite,” she continued. “It has also become a gateway for promoting the cultures of several countries.
We truly hope that it expands to host more countries and that countries become responsible for their participation. This way, they will have a right to collect their revenues in a manner consistent with their expenses during their participation in the festival.”


Saudi Arabia delivers ‘early warning’ on preterm births

Updated 21 November 2019

Saudi Arabia delivers ‘early warning’ on preterm births

  • Cost of care, long-term health issues a challenge for hospitals, says expert

JEDDAH: Up to 60,000 babies are born prematurely every year in Saudi Arabia with hospitals in the Kingdom spending up to SR60,000 ($16,000) on individual treatment and specialized care, a leading pediatrician told Arab News.

Dr. Sawsan Hussein Daffa, consultant neonatologist and head of pediatrics department at the Aya Specialist Hospital, said that the Saudi Ministry of Health is working to ensure premature infants get the best medical help possible, in addition to assisting families, despite the high cost.

“Premature births can cost hospitals and insurance companies as much as SR100,000 ($26,667),” she said. “Services provided to care for premature babies can cost hospitals SR50,000-60,000 during the infant’s stay.”

Daffa was speaking after World Prematurity Day on Nov. 17.

Any child born before 36 weeks of the gestational age is called premature.

“The particularly small babies are placed in incubators for a period of time ranging from 30 to 60 days. This can cost government hospitals/insurance companies around SR60,000. Some others are placed there for longer periods and can even cost SR100,000,” she said.

However, the consultant said that up to 28 percent of premature babies die due to complications.

The Saudi Health Ministry’s website said that some preterm births are likely to have more health problems than babies born on time. “These may face long-term health problems affecting the brain, lungs, hearing or vision.”

“One of the most life-threatening problems is respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), which can cause babies to need extra oxygen and help with breathing. RDS occurs when there is not enough surfactant in the lungs. This substance, made by the lungs, keeps the airways open and helps babies breathe,” she said.

Daffa said that a baby with RDS is usually kept on a respiratory machine and receives surfactant.

“Premature babies are put in incubators until they are 1.8 to 2kg. This normally needs a month or two. Sometimes, they are placed there for three months depending on the weight of the premature child when they were born. The less they weigh, the more time they need to spend in the incubator,” she said.

Daffa said that World Prematurity Day was first celebrated 11 years ago in Italy when the families of premature infants gathered. “It has been celebrated yearly since then,” she said.

“It is an occasion during which physicians work on promoting awareness among families, especially pregnant women, to prevent preterm births. It is also a chance to spread awareness as to how to help premature babies avoid diseases.”

The consultant said that a premature baby grows differently from a full-term baby in their early years.

“These babies may start walking later than their peers. Sometimes complications can affect their brains and thus, they join school late, too,” she said. But she said that by the age of 10 their development was similar to that of other children.

The neonatologist advised parents of premature children to attend events to help their children avoid complications.

“Pregnant mothers should follow up with their doctors to detect problems early and find solutions. They should also follow a diet rich in proteins, folic acid and minerals,” she added. 

Daffa said a special vaccine given to premature babies could protect them against the respiratory syncytial virus, which normally hits premature infants from October to March.

According to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization, more than 60 percent of preterm births occur in Africa and South Asia, but preterm birth is a global problem. In lower-income countries, on average 12 percent of babies are born too early compared with 9 percent in higher-income countries, the report said.

Within countries, poorer families are at higher risk, it added.