Hajj is the largest annual gathering in the world. Over two million people from nearly every country attend this spiritual pilgrimage to Makkah, Saudi Arabia. The Hajj season takes place this year between November 4 and 9, 2011.
Due to the large number of people at this gathering there may be an increased risk of certain infectious diseases such as meningococcal disease, tuberculosis, influenza and gastrointestinal infections. Travelers may also face a greater risk of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and physical injuries.
Meningococcal vaccine is required for all travelers. Ministry of Health , Saudi Arabia also advises that all travelers get the seasonal influenza vaccine. All travelers arriving from regions where there is polio (Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Angola and Sudan), must get vaccinated with oral polio vaccine six weeks before arrival and will be requested to show proof of vaccination against polio. They will also be given another dose upon arrival.
Required for entry:
All travelers are urged to get a yearly influenza (flu) vaccine. Travelers who want to reduce their risk of flu should receive the flu vaccine at least two weeks prior to departure. Children six months through eight years of age may need two doses of vaccine. The Ministry of Health recommends that pilgrims be vaccinated against seasonal influenza before arrival, particularly those with pre-existing conditions (e.g. the elderly, people with chronic chest or heart diseases or cardiac, hepatic or renal failure).
All travelers arriving from regions where there is polio (Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Angola and Sudan), must get vaccinated with oral polio vaccine six weeks before arrival and will be requested to show proof of vaccination against polio. They will also be given another dose upon arrival.
Recommended for travel:
Routine vaccinations (such as measles-mumps-rubella [MMR], polio, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis)
Before you leave for Saudi Arabia, make sure you are up to date on all routine vaccinations, which include polio, measles/mumps/rubella (MMR), tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. These vaccines are necessary to protect you from diseases that are still common in many parts of the world.
International Outbreaks Response
In the event of a health emergency causing international health concern or in case of outbreaks subjective to international health regulations in any country from where the pilgrims come the Saudi Arabia health authorities may take any additional preventive precautions after consultation with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to avoid the spread of infection among pilgrims and Umra performance or transfer it to their countries.
Tips to reduce the chances of illness and injury
Take steps to protect your health before you leave.
Heat-related illness is a risk due to large crowds, high temperatures and extensive walking. Children, the elderly and those with certain health problems (such as heart disease) are at even higher risk.
Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
Drink only beverages that have been bottled and sealed.
Avoid tap water, fountain drinks and ice cubes.
Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing.
Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
Avoid close contact with sick people.
If you are sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
Avoid sharing sharp objects, such as razors, with others.
Wear sunscreen (at least SPF 15) to prevent sunburn, and wear sunglasses with UV protection to protect your eyes.
Cover your head, when possible, to reduce heat exposure.
If you are not feeling well during your trip, you should get medical attention.
If you do not feel well after you return from your trip, you should get medical attention and mention that you have recently traveled.
Make a photocopy of your passport to carry with you at all times.
Designate meeting points incase of separation from your traveling companions.
Food carried by visitors and pilgrims are banned and not allowed into the country, only proper canned food in very small amount which is enough for one person to the end of his or her trip is allowed.
Ministry of Health of Saudi Arabia
The Ministry of Health plays a principal role in extending Hajj services. More than two million pilgrims assemble at various Hajj sites. Despite their different nationalities and backgrounds they are equal before Allah Almighty on this great Hajj occasion. The Ministry of Health is responsible for following up their health condition during Hajj season. The following measures help to achieve this end:
Stipulating the health conditions that should be satisfied by pilgrims and the type of food they are allowed to carry. Their countries and the WHO are informed of these conditions, which may require the inoculation of all or some of the pilgrims against certain diseases and the presentation of inoculation certificates at entry points.
Coordination with the municipalities of Madinah as well as the Water and Sewage Departments to appoint supervision teams to inspect environment and general hygiene at the Hajj sites. They also supervise water sources, sewage drainage and efforts aimed at combating insects.
The implementation of wide-scale health education programmes in pilgrims’ countries and at the Hajj sites. The programmes deal with health precautions to be taken, particularly in case of sunstrokes and contagious diseases. Prevention methods are also highlighted.
Early in Shaaban every year, the Ministry of Health launches disease prevention campaigns, including the inoculation of personnel at the Hajj sites. More than thirteen epidemic investigation teams are operating in hospitals, primary health care centers, various Hajj sites and the two holy cities.
The implementation of intensive multi-language education programs to explain to pilgrims how to avoid diseases and how to react in case of illness, particularly sunstrokes and heat exhaustion.
Organisation of tours by the ministry’s environment sanitation teams to regularly inspect food stores, drinking water sources and pilgrim residences to verify the application of the specified conditions. And ensure the spraying of insecticides and removal of garbage.
General safety instructions
For your own safety and that of others, please observe the following instructions when proceeding to the casting of the Jamarat:
Adherence to the schedules designated for you by the Mutawwif.
Adherence to the lanes designated for proceeding to the Jamarat and returning there from.
Avoid pushing your fellow pilgrims and proceed quietly and calmly.
Do not carry personal effects.
Do not walk against the direction of the traffic.
Sources: Ministry of Hajj Saudi Arabia, Ministry of health portal Saudi Arabia, CDC.
Meningococcal vaccine (quadrivalent)
A certificate of vaccination against Meningococcal Meningitis is required from all visitors from all over the world arriving for the purpose of Umrah or Hajj. The certificate must have been issued not more than three years and not less than 10 days before arrival to Saudi Arabia.
The responsible authorities in the country from where the visitor comes must ensure that vaccination has been carried out as follows:
Adults and children over the age of two years must receive the vaccination against meningococcal meningitis with the quadrivalent vaccine (serogroups A,C, Y and W135).
Children between three months and two years of age must be given two doses of the A vaccine with a three-month interval between the two doses. There are two types of quadrivalent meningococcal vaccine: meningococcal conjugate vaccine, which is recommended for people aged 2–55, and meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine, which is recommended for people over 55 but can be given to people aged 2–55.
All pilgrims arriving in Saudi Arabia will be screened for diseases that must be reported under the International Health Regulations, including dengue fever, meningococcal meningitis, and yellow fever. The screening may also include influenza.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 21st, 2011.
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