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 Elderly, sick, pregnant urged to skip Haj over A(H1N1)

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PostSubject: Elderly, sick, pregnant urged to skip Haj over A(H1N1)   Thu Jul 02, 2009 5:43 pm

MANILA, Philippines — Elderly, sick or pregnant Muslim devotees who wish to make their pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest city, Mecca (Makkah), should skip this year's Haj, Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday.

Saudi health officials gave the advice in view of the rising number of A(H1N1) cases especially among expatriates returning to the kingdom from vacation.

A report by the online site Arab News Wednesday said the recommendation was arrived at during a health experts' workshop on precautionary health measures during Haj.

Among the participants were experts from the World Health Organization, other international agencies and Saudi Arabia, the online report said.

About 4,000 Filipinos join more than 2 million Muslims all over the world every year to take part in the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia’s eastern city of Makkah.

Pilgrims dying of illness during Haj is not an uncommon occurrence and Saudi Arabia makes it a point to vaccinate participants for such contagious diseases as meningitis and flu upon their arrival in the kingdom.

Meeting participants, however, said the weak or infirm should not be allowed to take the unnecessary risk this time since the A(H1N1) virus has been proved to be deadly especially to those who have existing illnesses.

As of June 29, the WHO’s tally of A(H1N1) cases is at 70,893, including 311 deaths in 110 countries.

Saudi Arabia has reported 69 cases, mostly imported transmissions. Of the total, 10 are Filipino nurses.

Saudi Health Minister Abdullah Al-Rabeeah said the workshop recommended that pilgrims, local residents and service providers in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah (Medina) should be vaccinated against the A(H1N1) virus at least two weeks before their departure from their home countries.

The vaccine is expected to be available in the market by November in time for the Haj season.

Other major recommendations at the workshop included 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.

Pilgrims, residents and those in contact with them should also be vaccinated against seasonal flu.

The workshop also recommended that pilgrims take the new A(H1N1) vaccine when it becomes available later this year, before coming to Saudi Arabia.

Also, 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 also 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.

Dr. Al-Rabeeah said 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.

He added the Kingdom was the only country which was implementing the system of quarantine recommended by the WHO.

But he said that as of now, there is no effective vaccine against the disease.

“The available vaccines are yet to be evaluated and assessed, a process that might take months," he said. - GMANews.TV
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