The Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is the largest pilgrimage in the world and last year attracted more than three million people.
Health authorities have grown increasingly vigilant about mass public gatherings in recent years, issuing regular warnings ahead of large movements of people.
This summer, for example, in the midst of surging measles rates across Europe, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) as hundreds of thousands gathered in Spain for World Youth Day – a Catholic event for young people.
Saudi Arabia preparing for pilgrimage
Public health officials in Saudi Arabia are gearing up for the annual influx of millions of people and highlighting the need for visitors to be protected against diseases such as yellow fever and influenza.
The WHO’s Weekly Epidemiological Record, a regular bulletin advising on public health issues, outlines the rules set down by the Saudi authorities.
All travellers arriving from countries at risk of yellow fever must present a vaccination certificate proving they have been vaccinated at least 10 days prior to, and not more than 10 years before, entering the country.
In addition, all people arriving for temporary visits should prove they are vaccinated against meningococcal meningitis not more than three years before arrival. People from high-risk countries will be given “chemo-prophylaxis” when they enter the country.
Keeping polio at bay
As global efforts to eradicate polio are intensified, the Saudi health authorities are requiring all travellers from Afghanistan, Angola, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sudan (north and south), to receive one dose of oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) at least six weeks prior to travel. They will also receive one dose of OPV at the border upon arrival.
In addition, the Ministry of Health of Saudi Arabia recommends that international pilgrims be vaccinated against seasonal influenza, particularly older people, those with pre-existing conditions, and health staff working in the Hajj premises. Vaccination against measles and rubella is encouraged.
With millions of foreigners making the trip in early November, residents of Medina and Mecca must also be up to date with their vaccines.
The WHO’s latest WER bulletin also includes a detailed look at the risks associated with mass gatherings and best practice in minimising public health problems.