Each year the Hajj pilgrimage takes place in Saudi Arabia when more than 3 million Muslims from over 183 countries converge on the city of Mecca. From a public health point of view, any gathering of this size presents its own problems as the risks of infectious diseases being spread across the globe when the pilgrims return home are amplified.
Every able-bodied Muslim who has the means to do so must attend the Hajj at least once in his or her lifetime. The annual gathering, which takes place from the 8th to the 12th day of Dhu al-Hjja (the last month of the Islamic year), will take place this year between the 9th and 13th of September. Another pilgrimage, Umrah, can be carried out at any time of the year.
Due to the sheer numbers attending the Hajj, the risk of spreading communicable diseases is increased - severe crowding, shared accommodation, difficulty in attending to personal hygiene and environmental pollution all play a part. To minimise the likelihood of this, each year the Saudi Ministry of Health (MOH) publishes health recommendations, with particular emphasis on those who are likely to suffer from complications from any illness.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has published this year’s recommendations in the July 1 edition of its Weekly Epidemiological Record:
- Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required from all travellers arriving from countries or areas at risk of yellow fever at least 10 days before arrival at the border (the MOH provides a list of affected countries in Africa and South/Central America).
- Meningococcal meningitis (4-in-1) vaccination for ACW135Y strains is required from all pilgrims and workers at Hajj sites. Two vaccine options are available now, one a polysaccharide and the other a conjugate (longer-lasting and with additional benefits). Travellers arriving from the African meningococcal meningitis belt countries will receive preventative antibiotics on entry into Saudi Arabia.
- Poliomyelitis vaccination for all pilgrims travelling from countries specified by the MOH. The certificate must show that the vaccine was given within a year, and not less than one month prior to departure, for Saudi Arabia. Additionally, regardless of age or vaccination history, one dose of the oral polio vaccine must be recorded.
- Seasonal influenza vaccination is recommended for all pilgrims and Hajj workers, particularly those with underlying medical conditions.
Other precautions recommended by the ministry are aimed at preventing Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infection and include the advice to postpone travel to the Hajj for the elderly, pregnant women and children, as well as those suffering from chronic diseases, immune deficiency disorders and malignancies.
Comprehensive information with full details is now available on this WHO webpage.
Final health recommendations for each traveller will be decided in consultation with a medical practitioner. For more general travel health information, contact the Travelvax information phone line during business hours on 1300 360 164.