Saving lives: How doctor’s pledge drives KSrelief, Saudi humanitarian aid

KSRelief Supervisor General Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah speaks to Arab News in Riyadh on Feb. 21, 2023. (AN Photo)
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Updated 07 March 2023
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Saving lives: How doctor’s pledge drives KSrelief, Saudi humanitarian aid

  • Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah is spearheading Saudi Arabia’s emergence as a humanitarian powerhouse 
  • The pediatric surgeon has separated 55 sets of conjoined twins from 23 countries since 1990

RIYADH: As the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, “the humanitarian arm of Saudi Arabia,” expands its global reach, many abroad may not know about a doctor’s care that drives the organization’s lifesaving assistance.

KSrelief was established by King Salman in 2015 with the aim of “delivering relief and aid to all in the world who are in need.” In April of that year, Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, a pediatric surgeon and adviser to the Saudi Royal Court, was appointed its supervisor-general.

This is not the first time that Al-Rabeeah has held public office. He has already served a term as the Kingdom’s health minister, headed a number of its major medical projects and institutions, and for the past 30 years has spearheaded a program that separates conjoined twins born into poor families.

Al-Rabeeah has separated so many children since his first such surgery in 1990 that on the occasions when he gathers them for Saudi Conjoined Twins Program reunion meetings, they can barely fit in one frame of one photo.

In those family photos are children from all over the world, some already adults, who remain in touch with the doctor who for many has become a parental figure as well — one who has given them a new chance in life.

He, too, regards them as his children.

“For me, every twin matters and I can tell you myself, and all of my colleagues, the team, they believe that those children are part of their family,” Al-Rabeeah told Arab News.

Young patients from 23 countries have benefited from his surgical skill.

Conjoined twins are a rare phenomenon, estimated to occur once in every 50,000 to 60,000 births, with a somewhat higher incidence in Southwest Asia and Africa.

Al-Rabeeah and his team have to date separated 55 sets of conjoined twins. Their last surgery took place in January, when they operated on Iraqi toddlers Ali and Omar, who were conjoined at the lower chest and abdomen, sharing a liver, bile ducts and intestines.

The six-phase operation at King Abdullah Specialized Children’s Hospital in Riyadh took 11 hours, involving 27 doctors and nurses from different specialties.

Many previous surgeries were much longer and performed by even larger teams, depending on the point of attachment and the internal parts that the children shared.

Each case is different, but the emotional moment at the end of the surgery is always the same.

“After we do this operation, when the parents come running, their tears of happiness, this is truly what touches my heart,” Al-Rabeeah said. “We have seen it basically with every twin. We have seen it with the twins from Poland, from Yemen, from Iraq, from Saudi Arabia, from the Philippines.”

Most doctors try to maintain a distance from their patients, especially in cases when lives are at stake, as they fear their job may become too emotionally overwhelming.

For Al-Rabeeah, distance is impossible, especially when his patients are children. “I’m a strong believer that for a doctor to succeed, they have to treat their patients as part of their family,” he said.




Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah performs separation surgery on conjoined twins at King Abdullah Specialized Children’s Hospital in Riyadh in 2022. (KSRelief)

“When you help, either save the life or improve the lives of children, especially conjoined twins, and you see them, how one body has become two bodies, one bed has become two beds ... I don’t think that’s something that you can forget easily. And for me it’s a lifelong bonding.”

Despite his increasing involvement in public service in Saudi Arabia over the years, Al-Rabeeah has never been off duty as a doctor, continuing to perform surgery even while serving as minister.

Medicine and saving lives is his calling — a path Al-Rabeeah would not change even if he could go back four decades to choose a different field.

“When I started studying medicine, I believed in it,” he said, recalling the time he joined the College of Medicine at King Saud University in Riyadh.

“When I selected the specialty of pediatric surgery, I believed in surgery, I believed in children ... When you do something, I always even teach (that) to my children: Don’t do anything unless you believe in it.”

His physician ethics are evident in Al-Rabeeah’s humanitarian work with KSrelief, which since its establishment has provided lifesaving emergency, food and medical assistance in 90 countries.




Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah and his team at King Abdullah Specialized Children’s Hospital in Riyadh in 2022. (KSRelief)

These interventions, worth more than $6 billion, have over the past eight years positioned Saudi Arabia as one of the world’s most generous humanitarian donors and fastest aid responders.

The substantial and timely nature of the Saudi emergency response was evident when devastating earthquakes hit southern Turkiye and northern Syria last month, killing more than 50,000 people. In some of the affected regions, KSrelief teams were the first foreign rescuers to arrive with emergency aid and medical care.

The humanitarian crisis in Turkiye and Syria has also put KSrelief’s mission of encouraging public participation and support for Saudi relief efforts in the limelight. In the weeks since it launched an online campaign for earthquake victims, KSrelief has collected more than $130 million in private donations.

“With respect to the Saudi (emergency) response in both Syria and Turkiye, I’m proud of it,” Al-Rabeeah told Arab News on the sidelines of the Riyadh International Humanitarian Forum, hosted by KSrelief and the UN in the Saudi capital in late February.

At the conference, Saudi Arabia pushed for strengthening communication between global aid actors and finding solutions to response challenges, at a time when the number of natural and man-made disasters seems to be on the rise.




Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah poses in 2010 with a group of conjoined twins he has operated on. (Supplied)

“We have seen an increasing number of conflicts, disasters and earthquakes, so we have to improve our response and be quicker,” Al-Rabeah said. “Coordination remains an issue, especially when there is an emergency response, and this is an area that has been also discussed — how we can be more coordinated than ever.”

With the number of projects and interventions increasing every year and with the support it enjoys from the Saudi government, KSRelief may in the future lead the way in improving global aid.

“KSRelief is the humanitarian arm of Saudi Arabia,” Al-Rabeeah said. “I foresee KSRelief in 10 years to be one of the very key and important players in the humanitarian field. Not only to provide aid, because everybody can provide aid, but to be also instrumental in the policymaking of aid, and in improving the quality of aid.”

And there is no overstating his dedication to the cause. “Nothing touches my heart more than helping people in need,” Al-Rabeah said. “I believe in it.”


Saudi Cabinet reiterates calls for immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza

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Saudi Cabinet reiterates calls for immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza

  • Cabinet session was headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
  • Stressed need to activate international accountability mechanisms regarding continued Israeli violations

RIYADH: The Saudi Cabinet on Tuesday condemned the “continued genocidal massacres” against the Palestinian people amid Israel’s battle with Hamas in Gaza, Saudi Press Agency reported.

During Tuesday’s session, which was headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Cabinet also renewed calls for an immediate and permanent ceasefire and for providing protection for civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories, SPA added. 

It also stressed the need to activate international accountability mechanisms regarding the continued Israeli violations of international humanitarian law and international legitimacy resolutions.

The Cabinet reviewed recent meetings between Saudi and regional and international officials and stressed the importance of strengthening the existing international system to be a “strong fortress against chaos and conflicts,” as well as the need to provide a “framework for cooperation and peaceful coexistence between countries, in light of the challenges and crises the world is witnessing,” SPA reported.


Have a sunkissed and safe summer

Excessive sun exposure can cause collagen and elastin in the skin to break down, leading to wrinkles, age spots, and sagging.
Updated 58 min 48 sec ago
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Have a sunkissed and safe summer

  • Experts advise on how you can get that golden glow and save your skin from damage, cancer

RIYADH: As the summertime rolls in, recreational tanning becomes a popular trend among young Saudi men and women who seek a sunkissed glow all year-round. Despite the allure of a bronzed complexion, the dangers associated with recreational tanning cannot be overlooked, especially if one skips applying sunscreen.

Jumana Ghassan, 25, told Arab News that she remains steadfast in her belief that sunscreen will get in the way of a proper bronze tan.

“I never use sunscreen when I tan, which is something I do every weekend, because I believe SPF does not allow me to get a golden and glowy tan.”

Excessive sun exposure can cause collagen and elastin in the skin to break down, leading to wrinkles, age spots, and sagging. (Supplied)

She is convinced that by skipping this vital step in her skincare routine, she will achieve a deeper, more even tan.

Sun exposure is the number one cause of skin cancer, with cases increasing in Saudi Arabia because of the high levels of sunlight throughout the year.   

According to research conducted at King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences in 2020, the two most common types of skin cancer in Saudi Arabia are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, making up 51.4 percent and 22.5 percent of cases respectively.

The proper amount of sunscreen for the face is equivalent to two-finger lengths. (Supplied)

While sunlight exposure has some benefits, exposure to ultraviolet, or UV, radiation from tanning beds or the sun can have detrimental effects on the skin.

Oncology specialist at King’s College Hospital London in Jeddah, Dr. Ali Al-Bayer, told Arab News: “Prolonged exposure to UV rays can damage the DNA in skin cells, leading to potential mutations and abnormal cell growth.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Sun exposure is the number one cause of skin cancer, with cases increasing in Saudi Arabia because of the high levels of sunlight throughout the year.   

• While sunlight exposure has some benefits, exposure to ultraviolet, or UV, radiation from tanning beds or the sun can have detrimental effects on the skin.

This damage is cumulative over time and increases the risk of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer, he added.

Sunscreen should be applied generously to all exposed areas of skin, including the face, neck, arms, legs, and even the scalp. (Supplied)

Al-Bayer said that it was crucial to try to avoid direct sunlight from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Dermatologist Dr. Fatima Al-Satouf told Arab News that sunscreen acted as a barrier, shielding the skin from the sun’s rays and preventing damage.

“Overexposure to the sun’s harmful rays can lead to the breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin, resulting in wrinkles, age spots and sagging,” she explained.

The proper amount of sunscreen for the face is equivalent to two-finger lengths. (Supplied)

She added that by applying sunscreen regularly and correctly, people could significantly reduce their risk of skin damage and premature aging caused by sun exposure.

Sunscreen should be applied generously to all exposed areas of skin, including the face, neck, arms, legs, and even the scalp.

Al-Bayer said that in nearly all cases, skin cancer appeared in areas that were most exposed to the sun.

Sunscreen should be applied generously to all exposed areas of skin, including the face, neck, arms, legs, and even the scalp. (Supplied)

“It is important to choose a sunscreen with a high SPF (sun protection factor) and broad spectrum coverage to ensure maximum protection against both UVA and UVB rays,” he said.

Al-Bayer said that the use of sunscreen should be combined with other sun-safe practices, such as seeking shade during peak sun hours and avoiding unnecessary sun exposure.

Consulting with a dermatologist for skin checks and advice on sunscreen use can further enhance a sun protection regimen.

Sunscreen should be applied generously to all exposed areas of skin, including the face, neck, arms, legs, and even the scalp. (Supplied)

“Regularly checking your skin for signs of sun damage, like freckles, moles, or sunspots, can help detect potential issues early on,” Al-Bayer said.

Al-Satouf said that it was recommended to apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going outside to allow time for it to be absorbed into the skin.

“Reapplying sunscreen every two hours, especially after swimming or sweating, is crucial to maintain its effectiveness.”

Al-Satouf added that the proper amount of sunscreen for the face is equivalent to two-finger lengths.

In addition to sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, such as hats, sunglasses and long-sleeved shirts, can further shield the skin from sun exposure.

Resorting to tanning beds is dangerous as they emit concentrated UV radiation that can be even more damaging than natural sunlight.

In fact, indoor tanning before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 59 percent, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

To achieve a tan while minimizing the risk of sun damage, there are several strategies that individuals can adopt.

Rasha Al-Ghamdi told Arab News: “After a skin cancer scare, I opted to use spray tan to get my desired shade, and my skin has never felt this healthy and supple.”

Self-tanning products and spray tans offer a safer alternative to traditional sunbathing or tanning beds.

These products can help to achieve a sun-kissed glow without the damaging effects of UV radiation.

It is important to choose self-tanning products that contain safe and effective ingredients and to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and maintenance.

Young people must prioritize their skin health and take measures to protect themselves from the dangers of recreational tanning.

By promoting sun-safe practices and embracing natural beauty, we can work toward a healthier and more inclusive beauty culture for all.

 


Kernels of promise in Asir as farmers ready for summer harvest

Updated 58 min 59 sec ago
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Kernels of promise in Asir as farmers ready for summer harvest

  • Time running out as annual summer rains loom
  • Crops are of superior quality, quantity this year

RIYADH: As the summer rains loom, farmers in Saudi Arabia’s Sarawat Mountains of Asir are in a race against time to bring in their wheat harvest.

This year’s crop is notable for both its abundance and superior quality, the Saudi Press Agency reported recently.

The wheat-cultivation cycle in Asir, which begins in February and spans five to six months, culminates in the traditional harvest known as Al-Sareem.

The wheat cultivation cycle in Asir, which begins in February and spans five to six months, culminates in the traditional harvest known as Al-Sareem. (SPA)

While some farmers still employ time-honored harvesting methods using sickles, many have embraced modern machinery, including large harvesters and handheld devices.

“Our terraced fields yield a variety of grains,” Issa Al-Waymani, a local farmer, told the SPA. “Besides different wheat varieties, we also grow barley and white and yellow corn.”

He highlighted the diverse grain production of Asir’s terraces. The region’s various types of wheat include Al-Seeb, Al-Mabia, Al-Qiyad and Al-Sumeira.

The wheat cultivation cycle in Asir, which begins in February and spans five to six months, culminates in the traditional harvest known as Al-Sareem. (SPA)

“We know it is time to harvest when the ears turn yellow and reach full maturity,” Al-Waymani said regarding the wheat-harvesting process. After harvesting, the crops are transported to designated threshing areas known locally as Al-Jareen.

Al-Waymani said these threshing grounds have evolved over time. “Traditionally, cattle or camels would drag a large stone weighing over 100 kg over the crop to separate the grains from their husks, called Al-Hatha,” he said.

FASTFACTS

• While some farmers in Asir still employ time-honored harvesting methods using sickles, many have embraced modern machinery.

• Asir’s farmers take great care to protect their crops from birds and monkeys until the harvest is complete.

Today, however, modern methods have largely replaced these traditional practices. “Now we use large harvesters or smaller machines operated by agricultural tractors,” Al-Waymani added. “We manually feed the crop into these machines after it has been sun-dried for at least 14 days.”

The wheat cultivation cycle in Asir, which begins in February and spans five to six months, culminates in the traditional harvest known as Al-Sareem. (SPA)

The region’s wheat production is concentrated along the Sarawat mountain range, from Dhahran Al-Janub in the south to Balqarn in the north, the report explained.

Areas including Al-Soudah, Tabab, Billahmer and Billasmar are renowned for producing the highest quality grains in the region for traditional local markets and the summer festivals in Asir.

Asir’s farmers take great care to protect their crops from birds and monkeys until the harvest is complete. After threshing and winnowing, the crop is weighed for Zakat purposes before being marketed.

The wheat cultivation cycle in Asir, which begins in February and spans five to six months, culminates in the traditional harvest known as Al-Sareem. (SPA)

Wheat remains one of the most sought-after crops in local markets, with prices ranging from $106 to $160 for a 50 kg bag.

Scientific studies have highlighted the nutritional benefits of this local wheat, which is packed with essential fatty acids, folic acid, B-complex vitamins, and fiber.

The produce is also thought to lower cholesterol and aid digestion, the SPA report stated.

 

 


Summer fruit season kicks off in AlUla

The fruit season seeks to empower the seasonal cycles of AlUla’s farms. (SPA)
Updated 59 min 5 sec ago
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Summer fruit season kicks off in AlUla

  • The fruit season seeks to empower the seasonal cycles of AlUla’s farms, known for producing the highest quality mangoes, grapes, figs, dates and citrus fruits, as well as gum arabic, a traditional plant highly valued for its medicinal and cosmetic uses

ALULA: The Royal Commission for AlUla has announced the launch of the area’s summer fruit season, which offers a variety of the finest local products at the farmers market in Manshiya Plaza, from July 17 to 24.

AlUla’s seasonal goods project aims to provide support to farmers and small business-owning families and increase sustainable demand for organic fruits and other products, which will provide new opportunities for economic diversification within and beyond the agricultural community.

The fruit season seeks to empower the seasonal cycles of AlUla’s farms. (SPA)

The project will feature four annual events: the first for summer fruit products from July 17 to 24, the second for dates from mid-October to mid-November, the third for gum arabic during November, and the fourth for citrus fruits for nine days starting in early January 2025.

The fruit season seeks to empower the seasonal cycles of AlUla’s farms, known for producing the highest quality mangoes, grapes, figs, dates and citrus fruits, as well as gum arabic, a traditional plant highly valued for its medicinal and cosmetic uses.

The fruit season seeks to empower the seasonal cycles of AlUla’s farms. (SPA)

The Manshiya market, a hub of community and agricultural life in AlUla, will host vendors and buyers of fresh local produce, boosting economic activity beyond traditional crop cycles.

The market attracts increasing numbers of visitors to its annual agricultural events, showcasing the diversity of the region’s crops and how fresh products are used in famous local dishes.

The project contributes to fostering a spirit of cooperation and partnership between AlUla’s farming community and local entities, aligning with the commission’s efforts to enhance sustainability and resilience in the economic sector.

 


Saudi local bread attracts visitors at Al-Baha fest

Updated 54 min 16 sec ago
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Saudi local bread attracts visitors at Al-Baha fest

  • Each region in the Kingdom keeps a record that reflects the culture, customs, and traditions of its inhabitants, passed down from generation to generation

AL-BAHA: The art of skillfully preparing local bread from the Al-Baha region has attracted visitors and residents to the second Dar Festival at Al-Mousa Heritage Village in Al-Baha.

Muqana bread is considered a staple food for the people of the region. It is made from wheat flour mixed with water, then placed on a thin stone heated by lighting a fire beneath it.

The dough is then covered with a dish-like object made of either pottery or thin iron. It is then covered with ash and embers, and a small fire is lit on top until it is ready to be taken out and served.

The Culinary Arts Commission has chosen muqana bread as the region’s main dish as part of a project to designate official dishes for each of Saudi Arabia’s areas. (SPA)

It is common for many locals to compete in making the largest loaf as a sign of hospitality.

Each region in the Kingdom keeps a record that reflects the culture, customs, and traditions of its inhabitants, passed down from generation to generation.

The Culinary Arts Commission has chosen muqana bread as the region’s main dish as part of a project to designate official dishes for each of the Kingdom’s areas.

The selection is made according to criteria set by the National and Regional Dishes Narratives project. This initiative takes into account cultural and heritage value; the historic importance of the dish; its expression of the region’s geography and food culture; and its contribution to supporting the local economy.