COVID-19 Facts with a focus on the Arab region: A policy brief by the Society for
Advancement of Science and Technology in the Arab World (SASTA).
On behalf of SASTA: Wael Al-Delaimy MD PhD
COVID-19, which stands for Corona Virus Disease 2019, is a serious pandemic that has taken the
world by surprise. The number of diseased and dead are still increasing. The Arab region is
impacted in a lesser extent but believed to be affected in the third wave after initial waves in
Asia and Western Countries. What is needed is a comprehensive plan learning from each
country and approaching this pandemic as a common threat regardless of political, cultural,
economical and ideological differences. COVID-19 does not differentiate between political
affiliation, ethnicity and/or citizenship. Because SASTA is focused on Arab expatriate Scientists
it can play a role in bringing together the region under a common theme to address this deadly
Why COVID-19 is a concern and has this deadly impact?
The nature of this virus made it deadly and allowed for its spreading in a highly contagious
manner several folds higher than the influenza virus. In addition to its ability to spread, it also
has the capability of invading deep into the lung tissue causing serious inflammatory reactions
in the alveoli, also known as the air sacs, which are the small sacs in the lung responsible for the
exchange of oxygen between the air in the lung and blood circulation. The inflammation leads
to fluids that fill the air sacs and prevents oxygen exchange and leads to suffocation and death
unless either the body is able to cope through this period with very low oxygen or there is a
need for mechanical ventilation to provide oxygen and force the lung air/blood exchange. A
third condition that is making this virus spread is its ability to survive outside the human body
for several days. It was found to stay up to 9 days on glass or plastic. This makes it easier to get
transmitted to people who touch these surfaces. Their hands then transmit the virus to their
lungs. If one combines all the above with the fact that no one has immunity to it, there are no
vaccines yet and no evidence-based therapy because it is a new disease, The perfect
catastrophic storm is created for a pandemic to spread globally which is what we are
What was done in the Arab region in response to COVID-19?
Delay in taking action is the single most important factor that contributed to the spread of the
virus in the region and most countries. But also, there is a lack of concern by the general public
because of many myths and misinformation in the social media that led to people ignoring the
government instructions. Rumors and short videos began to circulate through main media of
false claims that this was not a pandemic but a chemical weapon, or other conspiracy theories.
Others began to make false claims about treatments that were not true. There was a mismatch
between the science, policies and regulations, and the general public adherence and awareness
of the seriousness of this disease. Many Arab countries were not enforcing the policies of
sheltering which led to the continuation of the spread. Being highly social communities, the Arab
populations continued to spread the disease through mass gatherings and events despite the
news from Italy and China showing serious costs to their populations in terms of death and
disease. There was limited and sparse testing. No comprehensive plan was put in place, and if
there was such plan it was not based on good data and practice of epidemiology.
The above is the general overview, but there were some bright spots to be proud of, and has
been covered in Western Media in Europe and the US. Jordan was referred to by several USbased
news media as a role model of how COVID-19 responses should be
lockdown-measures/). There was preparation of isolation in the dead sea resorts, far
away from any city and isolated but still has the necessities for living. There were hefty fines
applied to violators. The government was organized, and even treatments and bread or
vegetables were delivered to homes by making phone calls by citizens in need. Most
importantly there was general public awareness and support for these measures despite its
economic toll. Myths and other conspiracy theories were not rampant. Morocco also won
praise from media from around the world https://northafricapost.com/39922-covid-19-
and was very effective in prevention, isolation, and doing frequent testing. These two Arab
countries were the exception.
We do believe the Arab region is still going to suffer more of COVID-19. For the reasons
mentioned above, it is more difficult to contain the virus. Many countries are opening up and
lifting isolation and the shelter-in sanction before they have control over the increasing trends
We, therefore, recommend the following:
1. Consult with fellow Arab countries, especially Jordan and Morocco on aspects they learned from
their handling of COVID-19.
2. Address the lack of adherence of people by the highest authorities and enforce hefty fines to
deter those who defy these policies.
3. Allow a team of epidemiologists, and public health researchers to work with policymakers to plan and project the pandemic’s behavior.
4. Focus on testing large numbers of people and completely isolate areas within the country that
show very high prevalence.
5. Be completely transparent about the situation and risks so as to earn the trust of the
population. This can happen by having scientists lead the public engagement instead of
politicians or officials.
6. Directly address any myths being circulated in the media in each country by bringing in the
scientific evidence documenting the pandemic and refuting any of the false claims of certain
foods, or drugs, or conspiracy theories related to the pandemic.
7. Engage the religious communities and the teaching of the prophets, especially that the majority of the Arab region are Muslims and the Prophet Mohamed peace be upon him addressed how to deal with pandemics and to not spread it around by moving around.
8. Form a region-wide network of the lead public health scientists leading the effort against COVID-
19 in their respective countries. SASTA can assist in establishing such a network using its
platform of top world scientists spread across universities around the world.
9. Related to the above point, encourage scientific advancement in finding treatments or testing
for the virus from scientists who are working in this field across the region and the expatriate
10. Plan for future similar actions and networks when the next pandemic hits, because it is expected that there will be similar pandemics in the future.
The Society for Advancement of Science and Technology (SASTA) is a US-based non-profit
organization that focuses on promoting science and technology in the Arab world.
Rana Dajani, PhD
Professor of Molecular Cell Biology
President of the Society of Science and Technology in the Arab World
University of Richmond, Richmond, VA
Cell phone: +18045514688