London: Over two million prospective Hajj pilgrims from around the world will start to converge at Makkah, Saudi Arabia in the next few weeks for the Hajj pilgrimage. Pilgrims have always been at high risk of contracting infectious diseases due to the close proximity with millions of people during the pilgrimage, especially at ceremonies, and while sharing accommodation and public transport. The infectious diseases can be transmitted through direct person-to-person contact via droplets, nasal or throat secretions of infected individuals. Close and prolonged contact with infected individuals (e.g. sneezing and coughing on someone, sharing an affected person’s used utensils) facilitates the spread of infection. Elderly and sick pilgrims suffering from chronic diseases (i.e. diabetes, respiratory, cardiac, kidney, and liver disease), children, pregnant women, and those with immune deficiency are at a higher risk of contracting infectious diseases.
Those with compromised health – including those with infectious disease and malignancy – are advised to postpone planning to perform their Hajj pilgrimage for their own and others safety, until their health improves. It is not obligatory for anyone with a serious health condition to perform Hajj.
It is highly regrettable that the vast majority of attending pilgrims do not have the appropriate knowledge of the risks involved when they are performing Hajj rituals amongst the daunting crowds of over two million people. Past outbreaks of infectious diseases during Hajj, in which a substantial number of pilgrims have lost their lives, could have been prevented had these pilgrims been equipped with knowledge of life-saving precautionary measures.
Senior doctors from Association of British Hujjaj (Pilgrims) UK strongly urges authorities from relevant countries sending pilgrims to Hajj to take the pilgrimage related health and safety issues seriously. The World Health Organization (WHO) also requires the dissemination of vital life-saving information amongst their prospective pilgrims, expressing in a joint statement that ‘This will also ensure the elimination of the risk of the outbreak of deadly infectious diseases upon the return of the pilgrims to their countries of origin’.