Reham Case: Health Officials Sacked, Minister’s iPad Gift Sparks Outrage

Seven senior officials at the Ministry of Health have been sacked over the case of HIV-tainted blood transfusion given to 13-year-old Reham al-Hakami in the city of Jizan in southern Saudi Arabia, according to local media reports. The accident took place in Jizan Public Hospital where al-Hakami, a sickle cell disease patient, has had blood transfusion every year. The girl was yesterday airlifted to King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center (KFSHRC) in Riyadh.

In a statement published on its website, MOH described the accident as a “gross mistake” and said it it deeply apologizes to the girl, her parents, her family and to Saudi society. MOH said it is investigating the case to ensure that the right of the girl and her family are preserved, and that the ministry is committed to hold to account anyone who was negligent. Mohammed al-Hakami, Reham’s uncle, told Saudi Gazette that the family intends to bring a lawsuit against MOH.

The ministry said all blood banks in the country are committed to the highest quality and safety standards, adding that what happened was an an individual mistake. This argument was rejected by Okaz columnist Mohammed Al-Ihaidib who said the incident was “the result of a number of administrative and technical errors that the authorities have been notified of before.” He wrote:

With due respect to the ongoing investigations, the only explanation as to why Reham was given HIV-contaminated blood is because an un-screened bag was mixed with screened bags. According to her mother, a few hours after the blood transfusion took place, a team from the hospital showed up at their house and asked that Reham return to the hospital. The contamination had been detected by now but it was too late to do anything.

The case sparked wide outrage on social media sites, where many users demanded that the Minister of Health Abdullah al-Rabeeah resign from his position. Al-Sharq newspaper reported that the minister has visited Reham at KFSHRC on Saturday and gave her an iPad as a gift, a gesture that was mocked by many on Twitter.

“What is the point of this gift,” asked Ibrahim al-Qahtani. “Is it a compensation for destroying her future?! Or is it an attempt to cheer her broken-hearted family up?!” Instead of the iPad, al-Qahtani said, the minister should offer them plane tickets to receive treatment at specialized hospitals abroad. A spokesman for MOH told the newspaper that the iPad is not a compensation but rather a personal gift from the minister. Khaled Marghalani, the spokesman, said the girl expressed her wish to read the Quran so the minister brought her an iPad with the Quran app on it.