In a Reuters’ June 27, 2014 article, the head of the scientific advisory board of the Saudi health ministry command and control center (CCC), Tariq Madani, was quoted as saying “We do have suspicions that the disease [MERS] may have been imported through camel trade from the Horn of Africa, but we haven’t proved it yet.” However, despite the lack of proof he indicated that a ban is “under consideration.”

There is no evidence that the source of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)coronavirus (CoV) is camels from the Horn of Africa (HOA) because infection in humans in the HOA has not been documented and most of the countries where cases have been reported such Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, UAE and Jordan all have domestic camels.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

First, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention constantly updates its citizens on the spread of this illness and issues advisories for the countries where cases of MERS have been reported. According to the CDC, countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula with reported cases include: Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen, and Lebanon. Moreover, countries with travel-associated cases include: UK, France, Tunisia, Italy, Malaysia, Philippines, Greece, Egypt, USA, Netherlands, and Algeria (see map). Thus, none of the HOA nations (Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Djibouti), all of which are camel exporters to the Middle East, are listed in this advisory. Additionally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the source of the virus is not yet clear but a genetic variant of MERS-CoV that match human strains have been isolated from camels in Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and the WHO and other studies have found “MERS-CoV antibodies” in camels across Africa and the Middle East. Although there appears to be a close genetic link between the virus found in camels and people, the WHO study concludes that “it is possible that other reservoirs exist.”

Finally, without conclusive evidence which camels in what part of the world are the source of the MERS-CoV, it would be premature to vilify any country or region at this time. Dr. Lisa Murillo’s finding about “striking correlations that cry out for further investigation” may have been the source of the Saudi official’s basis for his suspicion, but a mere correlation, no matter how striking, does not prove causation. A case in point, there is a strong correlation between the countries where MERS cases have been confirmed and the fact that they raise camels and consume their meat. Additionally, as indicated above, virus strains that match those of humans have been isolated from camels in some of these countries. However, it would still be wrong to conclude that the camels in these countries are the source of the virus.

Considering that camel herders in the HOA have constant contact with camels and camel meat is extensively consumed, the lack of any cases in this region behooves scientists and officials to further investigate the source of the virus. A ban on camel imports from the HOA based on suspicions is

irresponsible as such action disregards the consequences on the people whose livelihood depends on this business.

Mohamed Hassan
Washington, DC


  1. Well written piece. The saudis are not interested in evidence they are looking for someone to blame and the blame is usually heaped on the shoulders of the weakest. Somaliland cannot speak for itself or protect the livelihoods of its semi-starving citizens. But there are very influential groups that could speak up. they include the UN, Oxfam, FAO, WHO. Will any of them say anything to the saudis? How about the Islamic organisation or Islamic charities? They know this unjustfied Saudi ban will cause enormous hardship and sufering fellow Muslim nomads living on the edge of survival. Will they stand up for them?
    I doubt it very much. Do the saudi-wannabe Salafis trying to turn Siomaliland into Hejaz on the horn have any links or influence to their salafi brethren acrioss the water? I doubt it gain.