Algeria’s health minister has provoked a barrage of criticism after suggesting a woman fatally stung by a scorpion in southern Algeria was responsible for the incident.
Health Minister Mokhtar Hasbellaoui was answering questions about healthcare reform at a news conference in Algiers on Tuesday when he was asked about the death of Aisha Aouissat, a university professor in the city of Ouargla – capital of Ouargla province – located some 780km south of Algiers.
Aouissat died after 10 days in a coma, according to local news outlet Nas Ouargla News. The health facility did not have an antidote to the poisonous sting.
“You know that the animal world is a friendly world. Animals do not harm humans. Animals harm humans when they feel threatened,” Hasbellaoui said.
“We have forgotten what is essential […] that we must live with our environment. Sometimes, our environment is hostile.
“I think that work needs to be done to study the behaviour of scorpions because understanding an animal’s behaviour will allow us to prevent such incidents,” the minister added.
Translation: Health minister – The scorpion doesn’t attack anyone unless he feels threatened!
Algerians took to social media to decry the state of public health in the resource-rich country and mock the minister’s apparent lack of sympathy and decorum.
“Had I known that I would one day become minister of health, I would have studied more seriously” – Mokhtar Hasbellaoui, minister of health
“ Le monde animal est gentil ”. Je déduis que l’homme n’est pas un animal.
Merci à Monsieur Mokhtar Hasbellaoui, Ministre de la Santé, de la Population et de la Réforme hospitalière.
— Azeddine SALMI (@zsalmi) September 4, 2018
Translation: “The animal world is friendly”. I deduce from that man is not an animal [then]. Thank you to Mr Mokhtar Hasbellaoui, minister of health.
Just weeks before her death, Aouissat, a linguistics professor, had herself criticised the lack of government investment in vital infrastructure and the absence of “necessary equipment” in what is commonly seen as the country’s richest province.
In August, health officials confirmed a cholera outbreak that killed at least two people in northern Algeria.
Many accused the government of negligence, saying the deaths could have been prevented if authorities had been more responsive to initial reports of the waterborne disease’s spread.