Every year, the Ministry of Health, under the guidance of its Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah has a huge task of serving millions of Haj pilgrims who come from all parts of the globe.
Al-Rabeeah believes that his ministry is only implementing the vision of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, who has always stressed the importance of people’s health as a topmost priority in serving mankind.
A few months following the month of Haj, a meeting is held under the chairmanship of the Ministry of Health (MOH), where the Haj program of the year is be reviewed and future programs are chalked out for the subsequent Haj seasons.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has applauded the Kingdom for its outstanding services provided to pilgrims and it has also commended for its remarkable performance in a special mass gathering medicine program, which is also appreciated by the world community.
The Haj program of the ministry starts with the quarantine measures adopted for Haj, who come from countries including those affected by infectious diseases.
The ministry sends out circulars to the foreign ministry here, which circulate them among all its embassies and the requirements are spelled out in the respective countries when pilgrim visas are issued.
Health ministry spokesman Dr. Khalid Al-Mirghalani said the Kingdom carefully monitors developments that are taking place throughout the globe in the field of infectious diseases.
He said the stipulated requirements in the new circular are in line with the WHO’s requirements to control the spread of infectious diseases in the world.
This year, he said, the Kingdom had focused on diseases such as yellow fever, meningitis, seasonal influenza, polio and food poisoning.
He said the stipulated vaccines should be given 10 days before the date of departure to Makkah and Madinah.
He said vaccination against meningitis is mandatory for local and foreign pilgrims.
The vaccination should be given 10 days before departure and it is valid only for a period of three years.
Besides vaccinations, the spokesman advised the pilgrims to take necessary precautions against influenza.
The ministry also draws up a coordinated contingency plan for the year’s Haj season to meet any emergency situations.
According to a MOH official, a team will be composed of more than 150 doctors and around 250 paramedics who will work in various places in the holy cities to help pilgrims get emergency medical treatment without loss of time.
The plan is also geared to attend to any natural calamities such as floods and earth slips and also crowd congestion.
The ministry will also deploy 80 fully-equipped ambulances and 55 mini ambulances to wade through crowds to treat and transport sick pilgrims.
The mini ambulances, which are also fully equipped, are mainly meant for the holy sites of Arafat, Muzdalifah and Mina, he said, adding that there are some 25 ambulances and 10 more mini-mobile medical vehicles stationed in Makkah to serve the pilgrims in that part of the holy city.
The medical personnel in the team are chosen from among experienced hands from various disciplines in all parts of the Kingdom.
They are trained in emergency work to cope with various situations during the Haj season to treat cardiac, renal and hypertension, dehydrated and accident patients.
The GPS-enabled mini-ambulances are fully equipped with state-of-the-art medical apparatus to handle emergency and ICU patients.
In addition, the ministry has detailed a total of 13 ambulances at a strategic point in Makkah to move patients when there is a major emergency. Last year, the ministry distributed some 42 ambulances to all parts of the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.
In 2011, a total of 2,500 patients were ferried to various clinics and hospitals with the help of these mobile vehicles, and the medical team treated more than 15,000 pilgrims who needed emergency treatment.
Around 24 medical teams supervised by eight doctors would work around the clock to serve patients in Makkah.
In the Jamarat area, there are 17 health clinics and 12 medical teams to supervise the whole movement of pilgrim traffic in the stoning area.
This year, the ministry is focusing on food poisoning.
Pilgrims have been asked not to keep their cooked food for more than two hours to avoid food poisoning.
They have also been requested to wash fruits and green leaves before consumption.
Meat and vegetables should not be washed together when preparing to cook.
Personal hygiene and hygienic cooking, storing, transporting and serving methods are important to avoid diarrhea and vomiting, food poisoning, dysentery, typhoid and cholera.
Hands should be washed before eating. Disposable shaving kits should be used.
Wearing masks made of cloth during the performance of various Haj rituals will be very useful in preventing respiratory infections such as colds, coughs, sore throats and pneumonia.
Covering the face with a towel while sleeping in congested rooms also helps prevent respiratory infections.
Pilgrims are advised that diagnosed cases of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, arthritis, migraine, epilepsy, skin diseases, psychiatric illnesses, and gastric ulcer should be properly controlled with appropriate treatment.
Dr. Saleh Al-Mazrou, undersecretary of logistics and engineering affairs, said health officials are being given special training to handle any emergency situations such as fire, floods and evacuation.
The MOH has special cars, which will also handle fire-fighting in emergencies.
For the 10th consecutive year, the MOH has been successfully running its phone-in service for Haj pilgrims.
The program, Saha Ziyufur Ar Rahman — health for the guests of Allah — — conducted by the information center of the MOH is part of the ministry’s efforts in its awareness campaign among pilgrims to have a Haj sans health problems.
The service is available on toll free number 8002494444 which will greet the caller with ‘Allah Humma Labaik’ and subsequently divert him or her to the concerned medical officer.
The service in Arabic, is open for public from 8 a.m. for a period of two weeks.
The ministry officials would also help pilgrims, who need online advice on Haj matters through the ministry’s website and on the social networking site Twitter@ saudimoh.
A team of experts will give instant replies to callers who seek medical advice during their pilgrimage to the holy cities.
The medical team comprises consultants, cardiologists, medical specialists, pharmacists and dentists.
The program is handled by a group of Saudi women working in the ministry and its city hospitals here, he added
Callers are ensured strict confidentiality of the information provided during their telephonic inquiries.
Men suffering from chronic ailments such as diabetes and hypertension are free to ask questions about their dose of medicines and how they should store their insulin during the pilgrimage, while women could inquire about vaccine and matters concerning their menstrual cycle, and how to prevent it during the pilgrimage.
The ministry officials also distribute each family a packet of literature and brochures concerning personal hygiene to advise the pilgrims on the precautionary measures to be taken during their stay in the holy cities.
The ministry is carefully implementing a series of health education program among the pilgrims to prevent the spread of infectious diseases at the holy sites.
The ministry has recruited people for field medical teams to deal with emergency situations in locations where there is a congestion of pilgrims.
It had allocated SR10 million to update the clinics with new equipment in the holy areas.
To prevent the spread of MERS-coronavirus in the holy cities, the MOH has requested the elderly people with chronic diseases to postpone their pilgrimage for the next season in line with the national preventive measures undertaken by the government.
There are 25 hospitals in the holy cities, which include seven in Makkah, nine in Madinah, four in Mina, and four in Arafat and the King Abdullah Medical City.
There are 5,250 beds, which includes 500 ICU beds. The MOH has stored 16,000 units of blood to treat patients in these hospitals.
As part of its strategic health program for the Haj, the Ministry of Health has been closely monitoring the health condition among the incoming Haj pilgrims from all parts of the world.
Mohammed Hamzah Khosheim, deputy health minister for planning and development, said the MOH had deployed health officials at 14 ports of entry via land, sea and air to monitor the entry of Haj pilgrims during the season.
“They are expected to take preventive and curative measures to keep infection, if any, under control.”
So far, he said, pilgrimage sites in Makkah and Madinah are safe from epidemics.
He said indicators show it will be a peaceful Haj sans diseases.
Khosheim said the health officials detailed at the ports of entry would ensure the pilgrims had already taken the vaccination from their ports of origin as advised before.
“If they have not taken, relevant doses will be given to them at the ports of entry so that they would be fortified with immunity against the respective diseases,” the deputy minister said.
Children between the age of two and 15 years have been asked to take oral dose of polio vaccine before their departure to the Kingdom.
As a preventive measure against the spread of the new corona virus (MERS-COV), the elderly and those suffering from chronic diseases have been requested to postpone their Haj pilgrimage this year.
In addition to these requirements, he added, the ministry had spelled out the quarantine regulations of the Kingdom.
They included, a valid certificate of vaccination against meningitis,10 days before the departure of the pilgrims to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, as well as to obtain a certificate of vaccination against polio from pilgrims hailing from the disease-affected countries.
The new coronavirus has affected 114 people, which included 49 deaths since September last year in the Kingdom.
The ministry has taken all preventive measures to combat the spread of the disease with the help of local and international medical experts, including WHO.
There are 100 primary health care centers and 17 emergency centers near the Jamaraat bridge (stoning area).
In addition to these facilities, he said, a total of 16,000 units of blood have been stored for emergency situations.
The MOH has employed around 22,000 medics and paramedics to man the clinics and hospitals in the holy areas.
It also has 50 mini ambulances to creep into crowded areas to ferry patients to the nearest hospital.