A group of Malaysian pilgrims heading for the Penang International Airport to catch their flight to Mecca. – Filepic
Here are five tips all Haj pilgrims should know before planning their journey.
AN estimated three million Muslims are set to converge in Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia for the Haj which takes place from Oct 13 to 18 this year.
During mass gatherings there are a number of health risks that may arise. Recognising the threats, Dr David Teo, who is International SOS’ regional medical director, assistance services for South and South-East Asia, has come up with five simple preventative measures to help maintain the health of pilgrims.
Established in 1996, International SOS in Malaysia specialises in delivering emergency assistance for Malaysians travelling domestically and abroad.
Here are five simple tips from Dr Teo:
1. Comply with mandatory vaccination requirements.
Several vaccination guidelines have been made mandatory for pilgrims by the Saudi Ministry of Haj.
> All visitors must have proof of a quadrivalent meningitis vaccination given at least 10 days and less than three years before arrival.
> Visitors from countries determined by the WHO to have a risk of yellow fever transmission must have proof of yellow fever vaccination.
> Proof of polio vaccination must be shown by travellers over the age of 15 arriving from certain countries. All children under 15 will be given oral polio vaccine on arrival in Saudi.
2. Avoid Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and other infections.
It’s vital that high levels of personal hygiene be maintained to prevent MERS-CoV and other respiratory infections. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water and avoid touching your face. Also, try to keep some distance from people who are coughing or sneezing.
When you’re in crowded places, wearing a face mask is recommended. If you are sick, cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and dispose of the tissue properly. Apart from that, avoid unnecessary direct contact with live animals.
To prevent skin infections, don’t share razors and preferably use single-use razors. Only use registered barbers at officially designated centres where you should insist on new shaving blades.
3. Keep hydrated to avoid heat stroke.
Minimise time spent in the sun, especially when it’s at its strongest from 10am to 4pm. Drink plenty of fluids and protect the face and eyes with a hat and sunglasses. Sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or higher should also be applied.
If you feel weak or dizzy, immediately rest in a cool shaded area and drink extra fluids. If the symptoms continue, seek medical attention.
4. Practical issues.
Upon arrival at Jeddah International Airport, you may find the place to be very crowded. It may take several hours to go through customs and immigration.
As with any trip, carry a photocopy of your passport and leave an additional copy with a trusted person in your home country. This is especially important during Haj as the Pilgrim Guides Association collects and holds pilgrims’ passports.
Also, don’t forget to reconfirm your accommodation bookings before travel.
5. Stay vigilant and be aware of your surroundings.
Saudi Arabia is a relatively safe country. However, travellers should be aware of their surroundings and belongings. It is best to follow local guidelines and pilgrimage routes as that’s part of local crowd management efforts.