By Haroon Balogun
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health has issued new health regulatory guidelines for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims and other travellers into the Kingdom for the 1440 Hajj season.
Based on World Health Organisation, WHO’s report of May 2019, citizens from countries exposed to the various diseases must be vaccinated against such and are required to present attestation of the said vaccination at the point of arrival into the Kingdom. The diseases are Yellow Fever and Poliomyelitis. In addition, all means of transportation from the affected countries must be disinfected before travelling into the Kingdom. For travellers exiting countries exposed to Dengue Fever and Zika Virus, apart from disinfection of transport carriages by relevant authorities in line with international patterns, citizens are mandated to avoid exposure to mosquitoes prior to their journey to Saudi Arabia.
Various advisory guidelines were also issued; among them is the preference for vaccination against Seasonal Influenza to be administered 10 days before arriving in Saudi Arabia. With respect to the commonly experienced Infection of Upper Respiratory System, health authorities in Saudi Arabia warned travellers against contact with animals especially camels, avoiding direct contact with symptomatic persons and shunning untreated milk as well as half cooked meat. The health authorities also encourage observation of general hygiene especially constant washing of the hands before and after food and after toilet usage, observing crowd and sneezing etiquette are highly recommended too.
Consequently, to eliminate chances of spreading water and food-borne diseases, transportation of food items into the Kingdom is prohibited except for canned foods in small quantities for personal consumption. These too must be transparently packaged. Moreover, pilgrims are advised not to eat foods cooked and kept for long without being refrigerated. They are advised to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consumption and drink lots of water to prevent heat stroke. Also, it is advised to stay away from direct sunrays by using umbrellas and remaining under shades.
The Saudi Ministry of Health reassures pilgrims and other travellers that in case of a disease outbreak or any other health emergency, the Kingdom’s authorities, in collaboration with WHO, will take additional measures to contain it. Therefore, each participating country’s medical mission is advised to isolate a room where ambiguous infectious disease carriers will be secluded and compulsorily reported to the Saudi authorities. Other infectious diseases are to be reported as well.
It will be recalled that NAHCON strongly advised that only medically fit persons should register for the Hajj exercise. This is reiterated by Saudi Arabia in its counsel to persons with severe illnesses and physically weak individuals, such as the aged and pregnant women, to reconsider participating in the Hajj exercise that is known to be generally strenuous. However, persons with terminal illnesses who insist on travelling for Hajj are advised to carry along medical items relevant to their condition, plus adequate drugs in original packets to be complemented by prescription letters by medical doctors in government hospitals.
Most of the guidelines are in conformity with those of Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health, FMH, another member of World Health Organisation. This is the reason why FMH has been facilitating free inoculations to pilgrims and other international travellers, plus coordinating enlightenment on relevance of these vaccines.
FMH also conducts periodic inspection of aircraft and others to safeguard health of travellers coming in and out of the country. Besides, in collaboration with the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, FMH has placed medical health warning devices in strategic locations in the country’s international airports to alert health workers on unusual medical symptoms.