This stock image taken in 2012 shows part of the vast crowd at a holy site in Mecca during that year

WHO Outlines Medical Preparations for Hajj Pilgrims

With concerns raised about the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), with a majority of cases being reported in Saudi Arabia, health authorities boosted surveillance and health education for incoming pilgrims and installed a new lab at Mena Alwadi Hospital to rapidly conduct tests for suspected cases.

Health authorities and health care workers in Saudi Arabia are prepared for the millions of Hajj religious pilgrims to arrive in Mecca and Medina this week, with added precautions in place because of the regional Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) outbreak. More cases are being reported in Saudi Arabia than anywhere else, and the disease has a high mortality rate.

The World Health Organization posted a report Oct. 14 about the preparations. It said 22,500 health workers are staffing 25 hospitals with 5,250 beds and 141 health centers at four main pilgrimage areas. The Emergency Hospital of Mena is staffed just for this period, with 190 beds and new equipment to treat from 10,000 to 12,000 patients daily, and 95 mobile intensive care units are being positioned in crowded areas.

Last year, more than 372,000 people were assisted at Saudi Ministry of Health facilities during the Hajj. "All health services are provided free of charge, even complicated and costly interventions such as open-heart surgeries. Traditionally, cardiovascular diseases, heat exhaustation and dehydration, burns, food poisoning as well as kidney problems are leading causes of medical interventions during the Hajj," according to WHO's report.

This is the fourth consecutive year for WHO to be invited by the Ministry of Health to observe and to provide any required technical assistance during the Hajj. WHO this year designated the kingdom’s Centre for Mass Gathering Medicine as a WHO Collaborating Centre.

The MERS-CoV outbreak, which has sickened 138 people and caused 60 deaths so far, is expected to significantly reduce the number of pilgrims this year; the Saudi National Scientific Committee for Infectious Diseases recommended people older than 65, children, pregnant women, and those with underlying conditions postpone the pilgrimage because of the MERS-CoV risk. In addition, health authorities boosted surveillance and health education for incoming pilgrims and installed a new lab at Mena Alwadi Hospital to rapidly conduct tests for suspected cases.

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