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Friday, November 17, 2006

HEALTH ADVICE FOR HAJJ TRAVELLERS

T H E M U S L I M C O U N C I L O F B R I T A I N

16 November 2006

HEALTH ADVICE FOR HAJJ TRAVELLERS

UK travellers to the annual Hajj Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca were today urged to make sure they’ve taken all the appropriate health precautions before making the journey.

More than two million Muslims perform the Hajj every year, with around 20,000 pilgrims from the UK. The largest annual international gathering of its kind in the world, the next Hajj takes place between 29 December 2006 and 3 January 2007.

The influx of a large population from around the world within a confined area over a short period increases the risk of respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, in particular meningococcal disease.

As part of a special ‘Health at Hajj and Umrah’ conference being held in London today, travellers are being reminded of the importance of seeking pre-travel health advice at least 10 days before travelling and making sure they are properly immunised.

Dr Shuja Shafi, Health & Medical Committee/ Chair, Spiritual Care Advisory Committee of the Muslim Council of Britain and a Health Protection Agency consultant, said:

"Pilgrims are urged to ensure that preparations for Hajj should include all possible precautions to stay healthy and perform all the rites of the Hajj. They should seek advice on appropriate immunisations and consult their doctor for existing medical conditions.

“By doing this they will not only protect themselves from infections, but also prevent passing them on to fellow pilgrims. Responsible tour operators must encourage and ensure that pilgrims have followed such advice.

“If required, medical assistance during the Hajj may be sought from the British Hajj Delegation in Makkah and Mina."

Organised by the Muslim Council of Britain and the Health Protection Agency, together with Queen Mary, University of London, the conference is bringing together experts from Saudi Arabia, Australia, Singapore and the UK to share information on providing effective health advice and support to pilgrims.

Professor David Hill, Director of the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC), said:

“By bringing together this expertise during the conference we can ensure that the very best information will be given to protect the health of the many thousands of UK Hajj pilgrims.”

Robert Booy, Honorary Professor of Child Health at Queen Mary, University of London, added:

“Particularly in winter influenza is a major risk and although authorities in Saudi do not yet require evidence of immunisation, influenza is a serious risk to pilgrims and I would strongly urge those in an ‘at risk’ group to consider vaccination before they travel.”

Note to Editors

1. Travellers from the UK are required to produce valid and up to date proof of receiving meningococcal disease vaccination (ACW135Y) in order to obtain a visa to enter Saudi Arabia. This vaccination is valid for three years and should be received not less than ten days before travel.

2. Further advice and information about vaccination and other health needs associated with the Hajj can be obtained from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (www.nathnac.org)

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has published an informational leaflet: http://www.fco.gov.uk/Files/KFile/6pp%20Hajj%20Guide06.pdf

The Department of Health guidance for Hajj travellers:
http://www.dh.gov.uk/PolicyAndGuidance/HealthAdviceForTravellers/HealthUpdates/fs/en?CONTENT_ID=4114831&chk=tmMZbe

3. Media enquiries to Katherine Lewis, Regional Communications Manager – HPA London, on 020 7759 2824 or Katherine.lewis@hpa.org.uk or MCB Media Office on 0845 26 26 786 or media@mcb.org.uk

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