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Vol. 5 No. 3: Zoonosis: Prospects and challenges for medical anthropology

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus and human-camel relationships in Qatar

  • Sarah Cabalion
  • Elmoubasher Abu Baker Abd Farag
  • Frédéric Keck
  • Omer Abdelahdi
  • Hamad Al-Romaihi
March 17, 2016


This article investigates camel raising as a possible cause of transmission of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) on the Arabian Peninsula. Drawing on collective research among camel workers in Qatar, it shows the difficulties of asking questions about camel raising in the context of a potential zoonosis, given the secretive nature of herding practices and the values attached to camels in Arab societies. It suggests that the concentration of camels in farms and central markets after the ban of camel grazing as well as the revival of the tradition of drinking camel milk have increased the risks of the transmission of MERS-CoV from camels to humans. The recent valorisation of camels, in the context of the transformation of Qatar from a pastoral economy to a global trade centre, may appear to be an obstacle in the surveillance of MERS-CoV, since camel owners are prone to denying that their animals are infected, but it can be converted into an asset if public health becomes a key element of national pride alongside camel raising.