The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health announced a plan Tuesday to protect pilgrims making hajj this year, with a particular focus on Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) Coronavirus, Ebola, yellow fever, influenza and polio, according to Arab News. Hussein Abdullah Al-Ghannam, the supervisor of health services and Umrah pilgrims, announced the measures to provide health care to visitors during the 1,436th occurrence of hajj.
Every year millions of Muslims travel to Mecca to participate in hajj, a five-day pilgrimage to the holy site of Mecca. Because every physically and financially able adult Muslim is required to make hajj at some point in his or her lifetime, the annual pilgrimage is one of the largest gatherings in the world. However, the massive number of visitors -- along with several rites that include close proximity to each another -- creates ideal conditions for the spread of infectious diseases.
The Ministry of Health has planned to have officials at 14 points of entry into the state to provide vaccinations for pilgrims who have not been inoculated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended Hepatitis A and B and typhoid vaccines as well as routine immunizations. The Ministry of Health requires all pilgrims to receive the meningococcal vaccine to receive entry.
As part of the plan, officials were aiming to address food poisoning at this year's hajj by recommending particular food hygiene. Diarrheal disease is common during the Hajj, according to the CDC. Officials also recommended pilgrims wear cloth masks during rituals and cover their faces with a towel while sleeping in crowded rooms in order to help prevent respiratory illnesses, which can also frequently spread in a situation similar to the Hajj.
The Ministry of Health was also expected to recruit 20,000 people to help keep pilgrims healthy, in addition to 400 medics specializing in rare health conditions.