Health of the Hajj

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Science  10 Aug 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6402, pp. 533
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau9617


For 5 days, starting 19 August, Saudi Arabia will host the Hajj, the world's largest annual religious pilgrimage, where people from over 180 countries will converge on Mecca. Infectious disease transmission associated with this mass transnational movement of people is well known—malaria in 632 CE, meningitis in 1987 and 2000, polio in 2004, and pandemic influenza in 2009. As the former Deputy Minister of Public Health for Saudi Arabia, I know how immense the challenge is to ensure that the country is prepared to contain the spread of infectious disease and maintain public well-being during this event. Although major progress has been made over the past 30 years in Saudi Arabia and in pilgrimage countries, there is still much more to do to avoid a health catastrophe, given that the pilgrim quota may grow to 2.2 million by 2020.