Extensive healthcare system in place to treat the inevitable maladies accompanying the 2 million Muslims from around the globe
New initiative allows Malaysian and Indonesian pilgrims to complete entry procedures at point of embarkation; initiative to include more countries in future
JEDDAH, August 11 (CIC) – With the start of Hajj just days away, officials from numerous ministries and departments within the Saudi government, including the Ministry of Health, are making the rounds to ensure that all Hajj procedures and facilities designed to facilitate the expected arrival of about 2 million pilgrims are in place and ready to welcome Muslims from across the globe.
According to the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, 881,778 arrived in the Kingdom from abroad as of August 6 to perform Hajj, which officially starts on August 19. The annual influx of pilgrims from around the world creates enormous health concerns for both Hajjis and local residents. Officials have been bolstered by the absence of detection of any epidemic or quarantine diseases, so far. The Ministry of Health’s focus is on preventive measures. The Ministry follows global health issues through World Health Organization (WHO) and international health agencies in order to prepare most efficiently and effectively to minimise health risks.
Not all maladies can be prevented, however, and the Kingdom provides treatment for even the most serious of illnesses. Even before the official start of Hajj, the Center for Cardiac Diseases and Surgery in Madinah has already received 86 cases, 49 of which were referred to the center’s Catheterisation Laboratory for medical procedures. This includes two open-heart surgeries. Most of those admitted have suffered heart attacks requiring emergency treatment.
Eleven hospitals have been set up in the area to provide services specifically to pilgrims while other hospitals have made preparations for emergency cases, should the need arise. All hospitals are supported by 13 primary seasonal healthcare centres. And Jeddah Health Affairs has allocated 115 medical doctors, technicians and administrators to work in the Health Control Centre at Jeddah Islamic Port through which many pilgrims will arrive. In addition to verifying health certificates of pilgrims arriving via the port, medicine and required vaccines will also be available.
Hamad bin Mohammad Al-Dowaila, Vice Minister of Health, recently paid visits to many health facilities in Jeddah and Makkah to check on their readiness to deal with the rush of pilgrims in the coming days. He also paid a visit to King Abdul Aziz Airport’s pilgrim city, where he was briefed on preparations and received a detailed account of the various departments represented in the centre and the services they provide. He also toured one of the arrival halls for pilgrims where he was given a detailed explanation about the work involved in preventing the spread of infectious diseases that might be carried by pilgrims.
The newly launched programme, the Makkah Route Initiative, is designed to streamline procedures for religious travellers to Saudi Arabia by allowing them to undergo many of their entry procedures while still at their airport of embarkation. Introduced this year to Malaysia and Indonesia because of the large number of pilgrims coming from those two countries, the Makkah Route Initiative allows for health records, including those showing vaccines, to be viewed electronically before pilgrims arrive in the Kingdom.
Pilgrims coming from the two countries can also be fingerprinted and have their passport stamped before departing. By executing clearance procedures, including a review of health records electronically, at the point of embarkation, arrival in Saudi Arabia will be greatly facilitated, speeding up the entry process, increasing the comfort of pilgrims and making health checks far more efficient than a perusal of paper-based records.
The initiative also allows arrivals from Malaysia and Indonesia to head directly to their accommodations in Makkah and Madinah without having to deal with time-consuming procedures. These travellers will also have their luggage transferred to their place of residence in the Kingdom by the Ministry of Haj.
The initiative was launched in Kuala Lumpur on July 14 and a few days later in Jakarta. In an announcement by Major-General Sulaiman Abdulaziz Al Yahya, Director General of Passports and head of the initiative, the programme is becoming so popular that the Kingdom has decided to roll out the service to pilgrims from any country “wishing to benefit from it.”
The official dates for this year’s Haj are August 19 – August 24.