Haj health plan focuses on infectious diseases

Riyadh : The Ministry of Health’s plan for Haj this year includes measures to counter various infectious diseases and ensure pilgrims have vaccinations for yellow fever, cholera, meningitis, flu and polio.

The initiatives were outlined Monday at the ministry’s headquarters in Riyadh after officials held their fourth Haj preparatory committee meeting. Mohammed bin Hamza Khoshaim, deputy minister of health for planning and development, chaired the meeting. Speaking to the press following the meeting, Hussein Ghannam, general supervisor of the directorate for Haj and Umrah, said the discussions focused on general health issues. “The members of the committee were keen to complete all arrangements, especially finalizing the work force comprising health officials and non-health workers to be deployed by August this year,” he said.

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The committee has to ensure that all facilities in Makkah and Madinah have adequate stocks of medicines and the required medical equipment. Khoshaim said preparations for the forthcoming Haj would focus on measures to counter the spread of infectious diseases. The preparations are in line with orders from Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah for pilgrims to get the best possible care. The Haj preparatory committees for Makkah and Madinah were set up in December last year.

This year, the ministry would again send out its annual circular to the Foreign Ministry for dissemination to all missions abroad, spelling out the requirements to enter the Kingdom during the Haj season. Khoshaim said the requirements are in line with World Health Organization recommendations for combating infectious diseases. This includes vaccinations, and for ships and aircraft carrying pilgrims to have certificates that they do not have mosquitoes. Meningitis vaccines are compulsory for all pilgrims, but vaccines against yellow fever and cholera are advised for pilgrims coming from certain countries. Yellow fever is endemic to Angola, Benin, Sudan, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, and many other African and South American countries.

Polio vaccines are also compulsory for all pilgrims from African countries, and those from Pakistan, India, Nepal and Afghanistan. Oral polio vaccine is compulsory for pilgrims arriving from countries including Uganda, Kenya, Benin, Angola, Togo, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia. Pilgrims from these countries are, on arrival, given another oral dose of polio vaccine irrespective of their age.

Besides these vaccinations, the official said pilgrims should take flu vaccines. It is not mandatory, but recommended because of prevailing weather conditions and the susceptibility of pilgrims. He said that high-risk pilgrims, who have chronic ailments such as diabetes, hypertension and renal diseases, should take the flu vaccine. During last year’s Haj, the ministry treated some 1.25 million pilgrims in the two holy cities. This included 4,015 pilgrims admitted to hospitals, 459 cardiac catheterization operations, 22 open-heart surgeries, 1,624 dialysis sessions and 106 endoscopy operations.