A Healthy Hajj
Think about the biggest New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world, when thousands of people gather together to ring in the New Year. None of these huge gatherings come close to the number of people who participate in the annual pilgrimage that millions of Muslims make to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. People from all over of the world make Hajj every year, travelling to the most sacred site in Islam, the Ka’aba in the Grand Mosque. Around 2 million pilgrims arrived in Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj last year — that’s double the number of people estimated to attend New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square, New York City. As the fifth pillar of Islam, Hajj must be made at least once of the life of every Muslim, as long as they are able to do so.
Spanning a total of 356,800 square metres (88.2 acres), each of the three floors of the Grand Mosque can hold 750,000 people. Pilgrims perform a tawaf, which involves circling the Ka’aba 7 times counterclockwise. Pilgrims also perform sa’i, during which they must run or walk between the two small mountains of Safa and Marwah 7 times (just over 3 km total, or 1.86 miles).
This year, Hajj is anticipated to take place from October 24 to October 29. As one of the largest gatherings of people in the world, the Hajj involves certain unique challenges to health and safety.
The Ministry of Hajj in Saudi Arabia makes extensive efforts to ensure the health and safety of pilgrims. Much research is focused on improving the flow of the crowd and preventing the spread of disease, and modifications are continually being made to improve the health and safety of pilgrims. For example, the Grand Mosque now has air-conditioned tunnels, with separate sections for walkers, runners and disabled pilgrims, and the Ministry of Hajj also provides free hospital care for pilgrims in need of medical assistance.
Healthy Hajj Tips
Many different people from many different countries crowded in one area can lead to the spread of diseases, which pilgrims can then take back to their home country and spread around. The Government of Saudi Arabia publishes a list of required vaccinations for the Hajjj. Visit your physician at least 6–8 weeks prior to ensure vaccinations are given on time.
- All pilgrims must have proof of meningococcal vaccine.
- Travellers arriving from a country at risk of yellow fever transmission must also have a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate (at least 10 days previously and not more than 10 years before arrival at the border).
- All travellers arriving from a region where polio occurs are required to show proof that they received the oral polio vaccine 6 weeks before arrival, and they will also be given another dose upon arrival. Proof of polio vaccination is only necessary for these certain visitors, however, the polio vaccine is generally recommended for all pilgrims, as a precaution.
- The influenza vaccination is also strongly recommended as a precaution, along with routine vaccinations, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and typhoid vaccinations.
Heat and Fatigue
- Hajj is a strenuous endeavour, so pilgrims may want to consider preparing with regular physical activity before arriving. Antiseptic cream and band-aids/plasters may also be useful for the treatment of blisters.
- Daytime temperatures can be as high as 45°C (113°F)! Drink plenty of clean water to prevent dehydration, and use a high factor sunscreen to prevent sunburn.
Physical Injury from Stampede
Stampedes have occurred at Hajj events in the past, leading to injuries and deaths of hundreds of pilgrims. While the government of Saudi Arabia has billions of dollars to improve the flow of crowds during Hajj, it’s not a bad idea to take some extra precautions.
- Be aware of your surroundings and the location of emergency exits, follow instructions, and try to avoid the most crowded areas.
- Performing certain rituals during off-peak hours will also help to reduce the risk caused by overcrowding.
- Diarrheal medication and oral rehydration sachets may come in handy.
- Regular hand washing, or using antibacterial wipes/gels to prevent the spread of infection
- Insect bites from ticks and other insects can be a problem at Hajj, use insect repellent
- At the end of hajj, men are required to have their heads shaved. Avoid unlicensed roadside barbers, who’s instruments may carry the risk of hepatitis and hiv from contaminated razors.
- If you have a pre-existing medical condition that may affect your health during Hajj, you may wish to seek medical advice from your physician. Bring ample supply of your regular medications and remember to take them during Hajj. You should also visit your physician if you feel ill after returning home.