Saudi Gazette – The oft-repeated idiom “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” finds its relevance as the Haj approaches. In mass gathering events like the Haj, the risk of infectious diseases spreading is high; in addition to exacerbation of existing medical conditions, injuries and accidents, said Dr. Majid Alshamrani, executive director of infection prevention and control program at the Ministry of National Guard.

Infection of the respiratory system is a common illness that occurs specially during Haj. Pneumonia, the infection of the lungs, is the leading cause of hospital admission in Saudi Arabia.

Streptococcus pneumoniae is the bacteria responsible for causing invasive severe type of infections namely meningitis (infection of membranes around the brain and pneumonia).

Pneumococcal disease has been estimated to cause 1.6 million deaths per year worldwide, out of which 600,000—800,000 are adults.

Meningococcal meningitis is another severe type of invasive disease. It can cause severe brain damage and is fatal in 50 perecnt of cases if not treated in time. The average incubation period is 4 days, but can range between 2 and 10 days.

The Kingdom has a long history of instituting preventative measures against meningococcal disease during Haj.

It is the reason why various Saudi government agencies, led by the Ministry of Health, are collaborating and preparing all around the year to have a safe Haj season. Both medical and non-medical sectors follow the ministry’s guidelines including pre-Haj immunizations and specific precautions for their employees participating in the Haj operation.

Under the government’s National Transformation Program 2020 to spur growth, the Ministry of Health will spend SR4.7 billion to improve the quality of healthcare services (preventive and curative) by restructuring primary health care system.

In so doing, health education and awareness on communicable and non-communicable diseases and vaccinations will be provided to both public and healthcare professionals. This will help reduce burden of diseases and will make immunization programs accessible in different health care facilities and primary health care centers.

The Kingdom’s Vision 2030 national initiative will definitely carve a niche for a healthy and balanced lifestyle which is an essential mainstay of a high quality of life.

Dr. Al Shamrani said that because the spread of infectious diseases is a significant health risk, lessons learned from previous Haj seasons are discussed and recommendations are put into actions for the upcoming season. Guidelines of disease prevention and control are reviewed, updated and published on the MOH website. Likewise, Saudi Arabia communicates with other countries and collaborates with WHO in preparation of guidelines and interventions regarding health requirements for the Haj visa.

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