Hajj pilgrims must not be deprived of lifesaving information to safeguard their health
Health experts from the Association of British Hujjaj (Pilgrims) UK (ABH), a national Hajj/Umrah specific organisation in the UK, have expressed their concern that a large number of prospective British Hajj travellers specifically from the disadvantaged and hard to reach communities are still travelling without any knowledge or awareness of health and safety issues, as they are being deprived of vital lifesaving information about the preventive measures and how they should safeguard their health and wellbeing.
British Hajj pilgrims have always been at high risk of contracting infectious diseases due to their close proximity with millions of people from around the world. Prolonged contact with infected individuals within confined space e.g. sneezing and coughing on someone or sharing an affected person’s used utensil facilitates the spread of deadly infectious diseases, which are transmitted by direct person-to-person contact via droplets of nasal or throat secretions as well as blood and body fluids of infected individuals.
In the past, over 20 British returnee Hajj pilgrims have tragically died in the UK due to outbreaks of meningitis during Hajj. In recent years, the spread of coronavirus in Saudi Arabia took the lives of a substantial number of people from around the world including a pilgrimage returnee from Birmingham who later passed on the virus to his son in the UK and tragically, both father and son passed away.
A vast majority of the vulnerable Hajj travellers from disadvantaged and hard-to-reach community groups are old aged, sick, disabled or otherwise unable to get access to health authorities’ websites due to language barriers and inability to use computers. Thus, people are being deprived of crucial lifesaving health advice and information. A multi-lingual awareness campaign via community-based press and media needs to be used to ensure that all Hajj travellers get the safety message.
It is highly regrettable that despite reminding national and local health authorities we have not witnessed them take a multi-lingual approach to educate vulnerable pilgrims about preventative health and safety measures, as required by the WHO and the government of Saudi Arabia.
The guidelines clearly state that ‘Health authorities in countries of origin are required to provide information to pilgrims on infectious diseases symptoms, methods of transmission, complications, and means of prevention.’
“This awareness is extremely important not only to protect the pilgrims, but also to eliminate the risk of the spread of these deadly infectious diseases, once the pilgrims return to their home countries,” said health experts in the joint statement.