The Kingdom successfully implemented an integrated health plan during the Haj season to make the sacred areas free of communicable diseases, Health Minister Khalid Al-Falih said in Kuwait on Tuesday.
The minister who was leading the Saudi delegation, was speaking at the 62nd session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Eastern Mediterranean which started in Kuwait on Monday.
More than 200 people, including representatives of 22 ministries of health from the countries of the region, Dr. Ala Alwan, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, and other senior health officials were present. He said that the Haj health plan was carried out in consultation with the local Haj committee and in coordination with the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The high temperatures, heat stress and the rising incidence of MERS-corona virus in other parts of the Kingdom were the major health challenges during the season, the minister said, adding that the success of the program needed months of preparation before the Haj. As a preventive measure against MERS, camels were not allowed for slaughter in the Haj areas as well as in the Kingdom, the minister said, recalling that 400,000 doses of polio were given to pilgrims at the 14 entry points to prevent the disease.
He also pointed out that a good number of pilgrims were from the elderly age group and have high incidences of chronic diseases. To attend to medical needs, he said that there were 155 health centers, 25 hospitals and 25,000 health officials deployed in all health facilities in the Haj sites.
Quoting health ministry statistics, the minister said 42 percent of the inpatients in the hospitals of pilgrimage areas had multiple chronic illnesses that required specialized medical services.
This year, he said the Ministry of Health conducted 22 open heart surgeries and 513 cardiac catheterizations and 32 endoscopies, and 2,700 pilgrims underwent dialysis treatment in various hospitals and clinics. Ambulances were there to shuttle emergency pilgrims to the nearest health facility and some 350 cases were airlifted to give prompt medical treatment.
During the meeting, Said El Aidi, Tunisian minister of health, highlighted the achievements of the last 12 months, particularly in relation to WHO’s strategic priorities, including maternal and child health, and control of non-communicable diseases.
Dr. Ala Alwan welcomed the ministers of health and members of delegations, expressing his appreciation to the host, the government of Kuwait for their generous hospitality.
The doctor highlighted major progress that has been made over the past year in the five regional strategic health priorities, particularly in responding to the extreme emergencies in the region and the health needs arising from them. He outlined the progress made in strengthening WHO’s role in emergency response, noting: “Last year we established a regional center for emergencies and polio eradication in Jordan, and reviewed and adjusted our readiness and response structure, and capacity at country level and in the regional office.” In addition to establishing a dedicated operations and logistic hub, Dr. Alwan added that “a regional emergency solidarity fund has been established and will be funded starting January 2016.”
Despite a substantial shortfall in funding, “the region has tackled heavy adversity with impressive innovation,” said WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan.
“These innovations align well with WHO’s reform requested by our governing bodies and initiated following the independent assessment of WHO’s performance during the Ebola outbreak,” she explained.