Sunday, 27 September 2009

Swine flu: H1N1-free health certificate must for haj this year

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Sept 26: With swine flu vaccine trials yet to begin in the country, the Central Haj Committee has decided to medically screen all the Haj pilgrims from India and issue flu-free health certificates.

Though vaccination against seasonal influenza has been made mandatory for all Haj pilgrims, it does not provide protection against the novel H1N1 virus that causes swine flu. Since swine flu vaccine is in trial stage in several countries, the Saudi authorities have made medical screening compulsory in a bid to prevent spread of the virus during Haj.

With Saudi authorities issuing latest swine flu guidelines on Saturday, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has directed the Central Haj Committee to ensure that all the Haj pilgrims carry medical certificates that they do not have any symptoms of swine flu or H1N1 human influenza viral attack.

The Haj pilgrims, besides taking shots of seasonal influenza vaccine, must individually undergo medical tests at Haj offices before boarding plane to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi authorities will examine the pilgrims on arrival and those
with symptoms will be quarantined at special centres within the airport. Production of health certificates from Indian authorities is also made compulsory.

"Before leaving India pilgrims will be examined for signs or symptoms of influenza A H1N1 at the point of embarkation. They will be issued an H1N1 symptom-free certificate in prescribed proforma. Only those with health certificates will be allowed to enter Saudi Arabia to perform this year's Haj," said AP Wakf Board former chairman Muhammad Saleem, quoting Indian Haj authorities in Jeddah. Saleem, currently in Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah, held discussions with the Indian Haj Mission there.

According to him, the Indian consulate in Jeddah has conveyed the new Saudi guidelines to the Central Haj Committee in Mumbai. The guidelines stipulate that State governments should make arrangements at respective airports to issue health certificates.

Meanwhile, the Saudi authorities have announced that there had been no swine flu deaths among Umrah pilgrims during Ramzan. An estimated 20 lakh people participated in the special Ramzan prayers in the Sacred Mosque in Mecca.

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