Friday, October 30, 2009
Can Saudi Arabia prevent an H1N1 outbreak at the hajj?
A very interesting story in yesterday's New York Times. (I know, another NYT article, but that's my newspaper of choice and I'm sticking to it.)
So: will they be able to? They are recommending that those who are young, pregnant or elderly, and even those with certain chronic conditions, stay home this year. The hajj is a central ritual of Islam, and I am very skeptical that Saudi Arabia will be able to convince countries to not let or strongly discourage people from participating in this important tenet. In 2008, 3 million participated in this annual pilgrimage, this year taking place November 25-29.
Saudi Arabia, the host country of the hajj, has contacted public health experts from America medical schools and the U.S. Navy's medical laboratory in Cairo for help with any assistance they may need. (And they will need assistance!) In 2008, a flu outbreak occurred at the Catholic World Youth Day in Sydney, at which a Tamiflu-resistant strain emerged.
Officials recognize that it will be impossible to keep H1N1 away from the event and even to slow its spread. So they are encouraging those most vulnerable to stay home. Will this work, though? It is such an important part of Islam - the fifth of the five pillars of Islam. Will those who are coming be able to access the H1N1 vaccine? That is doubtful too, although China says it will vaccinate all of its pilgrims attending the hajj.
It will be very interesting to monitor this story in the next few weeks and see what happens - we'll keep you updated at the Epi Cafe!