Elderly asked to skip Haj

http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1&section=0&article=124197&d=1&m=7&y=2009

Elderly asked to skip Haj
Muhammad Humaidan & Samir Al-Saadi | Arab News
 

JEDDAH: A workshop on precautionary health measures during Haj and Umrah yesterday recommended that the old, the infirm, pregnant women and children not perform Haj and Umrah this year in view of the global swine flu pandemic.

Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah said at a press conference following a workshop in Jeddah yesterday that the World Health Organization (WHO) experts who participated in the conference were satisfied with the precautionary measures taken by the Kingdom to prevent the spread of the virus among pilgrims during the Haj season.

“What the health authorities in the Kingdom are doing to prevent the spread of the disease by far surpasses what is being done anywhere else in the world,” Al-Rabeeah said, adding that the Kingdom was the only country which was implementing the system of quarantine recommended by the WHO. Experts from the WHO, other international agencies and Saudi Arabia attended the workshop, which was organized on instructions from Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.

Asked by Arab News about the efficacy of vaccines against swine flu, the minister said there is no effective vaccine against the disease. “The available vaccines are yet to be evaluated and assessed, a process that might take months.”

The workshop recommended that Haj and Umrah pilgrims, local residents and service providers in the holy cities should be vaccinated against the H1N1 virus at least two weeks before their departure from their home countries, the minister said.

The workshop’s major recommendations were that Saudi health authorities and Haj delegations representing various countries stock necessary quantities of medication for treatment and prevention of the virus causing the swine flu.

Referral laboratories should have reserve stocks of reagents and trained manpower to deal with the large number of people in Haj. The pilgrims, residents and those in contact with them should also be vaccinated against seasonal flu.

The workshop also recommended that pilgrims take the new H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available later this year, before coming to Saudi Arabia. The workshop stressed the need for continuing the monitoring and checking of the spread of swine flu in the Kingdom. Practicing personal hygienic habits such as covering the nose while sneezing, coughing into tissues and washing hands with water and soap besides wearing masks while visiting crowded places were also recommended.

Quarantine facilities should be close to arrival lounges for Haj pilgrims, according to the experts. Recording and preserving accurate data about the disease for future reference was also stressed at the workshop. The workshop urged the importance of adhering to the health conditions issued by the Saudi Ministry of Health. The MoH and WHO annually prepare plans for awareness campaigns.

The minister said he did not agree with claims that the media’s focus on the disease was larger than the actual danger. “On the other hand, the danger of the disease comes from the absence of immunity and vaccination against it,” he said.

The WHO experts expect a considerable increase in cases of swine flu until a vaccine is found. At the same time, the ministry announced that six new cases of swine flu had been reported in the Kingdom, raising the number to 81.

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