October 27, 2013
RIYADH — Nearly half of the pilgrims who came from abroad for this year's Haj received various kinds of healthcare services during their stay in the holy cities, according to the Kingdom's deputy minister of health.
"A total of 997,379 pilgrims from various nationalities have received healthcare services of varying degrees," Ziad Maimish said while addressing the fourth Islamic Health Ministers Conference currently under way in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.
Maimish explained how the Kingdom was able to successfully organize an epidemic-free Haj at a time the entire world was apprehensive of a possible Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) outbreak during the annual pilgrimage.
Maimish cited a number of measures put in place by the Saudi health authorities to prevent any outbreak of contagious diseases among pilgrims.
These measures included policies formulated by the National Committee for Infectious Diseases on prevention and dealing with infections, levels of emergency preparedness and application of necessary measures to intensify early epidemiological surveillance, including special procedures for MERS-CoV.
In addition, the Health Ministry made available laboratory equipment and materials necessary to conduct quick tests and analysis for all viruses, vectors and pathogens. It also ensured the continuation of developing health centers in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.
The authorities also secured most modern diagnostic and therapeutic devices for ambulatory services to enable fast field treatment or hospital transfers. This was in addition to developing speedy ambulance tracking and directing services, Maimish said.
To face the MERS-CoV challenge, he said, the Saudi authorities installed a new laboratory at Mina Wadi Hospital, which is at the heart of the pilgrimage zone, for rapid conduct of tests for suspected cases and getting test results within a matter of hours.
This was in addition to existing laboratory facilities in Jeddah and Madinah.
Some 22,500 health workers from across the Kingdom arrived to staff 25 hospitals with 5,250 beds and 141 health centers at four main pilgrim centers.
As part of this year's health guidelines for incoming pilgrims, the National Scientific Committee for Infectious Diseases recommended that people older than 65, children, pregnant women and those with underlying conditions should postpone their pilgrimage due to the MERS-CoV risk.
Maimish pointed out that the health authorities conducted random checks of pilgrims at air, land and sea ports of entry to monitor compliance with the preventive health measures for Haj. More than 2,000 healthcare professionals were deployed at various entry points to carry out this task.
As many as 613,050 external pilgrims were vaccinated at the entry points — 430,500 against polio and 182,550 against meningitis, Maimish said.
He added that in addition to detailed investigations of every suspected case, case-control studies for index cases and intensive follow-up of contacts with serological testing to improve understanding of the critical features of MERS-CoV infection were carried out.
This year’s Haj was termed critical by the World Health Organization (WHO) due to the looming MERS virus that has claimed at least 58 lives — mostly in Saudi Arabia — since it first emerged in 2012.
For the fourth consecutive year, WHO has been invited by the Ministry of Health to observe and to provide any required technical assistance during the Haj.