Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Someone Doesn't Care About The Health Message.

There was an article in today's Arab News (aka The Green Truth) about removing school canteens and only having vending machines to provide students with food.  I have to admit, it triggered my pessimistic tendencies.  Either someone higher up the food chain in this country has no idea about Saudi's dietary related health issues, or is simply choosing to ignore recent health data and messages calling for improved health of the people.

Almost every week in the Arab News, and most other media in Saudi, are articles on how fat and unhealthy Saudi's are becoming from lack of exercise and Western dietary influences.  Along with those articles come government promises to 'do something about it'.

To their credit they have made various moves to address the problem, one strategy being specifying the type of food to come out of school canteens.

'Why on earth', I thought, 'would you go to the trouble of banning unhealthy food in school canteens and then decide to kit the whole place out with vending machines?'  And then it hit me.  Because you can - and in this country the only people who can do whatever they want are those near the top of the Saudi tree. ( It's interesting that Saudi tree's are covered in thorns!)

Camel hiding behind thorny Saudi shrubbery.
I couldn't help thinking that Someone Highly Placed has found a way to make some cash and is his using his influence to ride roughshod over any initiatives put in place to really help his countrymen (even if they are only school kids), and is only focused on  helping him (or perhaps her) self.  And then I came across this article, also in Arab News late last year, about Vending Machine Distribution Agreement.  One can't help but wonder if these are the machines going into schools.

Saudi is a fascinating country and, contrary to a lot of the taunting press that goes viral via social websites, the folks running the place are not giant ignoramuses. They do, however, face a bit of a battle with some entrenched attitudes, some more recently wired into the psyche than others.

Wasta is a word bandied about in this region and, in a nutshell, it means 'Influence'.  It can be used for good purposes or otherwise.  Within its powerful sphere hide greed, arrogance and selfishness, traits that seem to be an accepted part of the culture of this country.  It is quite obvious to anyone who's lived here a little while that the only people able to influence two Ministries (Health and Education according to this article) are those with lots of Wasta.

Watching the rapidly expanding girth of the people over the last few years, the big wigs are well aware that the health of this nation is a bit of an issue.    They're building numerous hospitals and health clinics to assist the cause but, as someone who has worked in the health arena for a while knows, hospitals are like the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.  A better idea is to keep people away from the cliff's edge altogether.  Vending machines in schools is like giving the cliff a party sign and sending out invitations.

I hope they can this plan. I hope Miss Pessimism is completely wrong and can go back to her corner.  I also hope that someone higher up the hierarchy chain decides he cares more about the health of his people than some bugger who's bought a boatload of vending machines and needs to get rid of them!

And if, as a friend suggested yesterday, Saudization is part of this plan (though lord knows how because sacking canteen workers and replacing them with machines doesn't strike me as helping the cause) then perhaps The Powers That Be could look at 'Kid Chow', one of a number of prepared food companies experiencing some healthy growth, according to the Wall Street Journal, and take a leaf out of their lunchbox menu for a business idea.

Ka Kite,

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