Swine Flu Major Concern for Hajj Pilgrims
In just a few weeks, from November 25-29, millions of Muslims will gather from across the globe to perform the Hajj. They will join processions of fellow pilgrims who simultaneously congregate in Mecca for a week and perform a series of holy rituals. Attracting 4 to 5 million Muslims annually, the Hajj is considered the largest holy pilgrimage in the world.
With a high volume of travelers convening in such a limited space, the safety of its participants has always garnered significant international attention; however, this year, concern has intensified as new health concerns have emerged, the largest being the H1N1 Influenza (swine flu).
Fears about the spread of swine flu during Hajj extend to every continent as World Health Organization figures estimate that the worldwide infection rate is approaching 100,000. In Saudi Arabia, the host country of the Hajj, approximately 7,000 people have become infected with swine flu– thus far resulting in 62 deaths.
It is because of this rapid spread of the virus that the Saudi government has been quick to take proper precautions. Thus far, the health ministry has begun to vaccinate local pilgrims and workers in Mecca, and has established surveillance procedures to track the growth of the virus. The government is also working on a global level to disseminate accurate information on influenza and virus prevention.
Similarly, cities in the US with large Muslim populations are paying great attention to healthcare and swine flu prevention. With hundreds of Arab and non-Arab Muslims thought to be making the Hajj from the metro-Detroit area, the proliferation of swine flu is a threat that sits close to home.
“Many of our residents complete the Hajj at an older age, and they are therefore more vulnerable to contracting a virus,” said Dr. Adnan Hammad, Senior Director of the Community Health & Research Center, ACCESS. “Also, many of these individuals have no health insurance. They haven’t been exposed to proper health treatment their whole lives, making them furthermore susceptible,” he continued.
The Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are taking a proactive approach to this grave health concern. Together, they are piloting a program which will evaluate 250 local travelers before and after they make the Hajj journey.
With the results of the study, ACCESS hopes to respond to the needs of any ailing participants, as well as create health-related prevention programs for future travelers. “We will share this information with Imams at mosques, children in schools, and local health ministries,” said Dr. Hammad. He continued, “This is an opportunity for ACCESS to take care of their community.”