Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Unwanted Pilgrims: Viruses Raise Fear in the Holy City of Mecca

Is nothing sacred? If you're a virus, apparently not.


According to recent reports, the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa will be keeping an estimated 1 million people from making the annual Islamic hajj to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Officials there are tightly restricting entry for fear of a potential outbreak in the city, where over two million Muslims gathered earlier this week to the pilgrimage that is central to their faith. They're right to be cautious-- the extremely large, dense crowds that fill the city during the hajj would provide the perfect environment for rapid transmission of the virus and a global epidemic of catastrophic proportions. For this reason, the number of visas available to pregnant women, children, the elderly, and those otherwise vulnerable to illness has been severely cut.Mecca authorities have also been taking steps to prevent potential spread of the disease by seriously ramping up screening measures in airports and increasing the number of medical personnel in the city.

All the countries that have been hit hardest by Ebola have large Muslim populations, and this restriction will mean that about a million people will not be allowed to make the pilgrimage required of all able-bodied Muslims.


But it's not just Ebola that presents a threat. The emerging virus known as Middle Eastern Respiratory syndrome, or MERS, is also raising serious fears of an epidemic, and many pilgrims can be seen wearing masks to protect themselves from the airborne disease.
Currently the Saudi Health minister reports that the pilgrims are not presenting illnesses that are cause for worry, but this issue highlights the serious need to create structures for preventing and curbing epidemics in a world where millions travel from all over the globe to gather in dense crowds.


By Kasiemobi Udo-okoye





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