Ebola hotline set up for Bahraini pilgrims in Saudi
Manama, August 12, 2014
Special hotlines will be set up for Bahraini pilgrims in Saudi Arabia amidst an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.
The move is part of Bahrain's emergency plans to fight the virus, which has a fatality rate of up to 90 per cent and so far claimed more than 900 lives, said a report in the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication.
More than 1, 700 suspected Ebola cases have been registered in West African nations, prompting the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare an "international emergency" on Saturday.
Health Ministry Haj medical committee head Dr Ali Al Baqqara said the hotlines will ease communication between caravans, medical volunteers in Saudi Arabia and officials in Bahrain if a suspected case is reported during the upcoming Haj season, which will start by the end of September.
"This will facilitate us to do the needful to attend to the case, isolate if needed and to proceed to the next step, which should be enhancing the preventive measures, if needed," he told the GDN.
"Agencies will be strictly guided to shift any suspicious cases immediately to medical facilities.
"Apart from this, awareness programmes and workshops on Ebola and Corona virus for pilgrims on all three parts of Haj - before, during and after their journey - will be in place.
"We have to involve not only the pilgrims, but also, all who will go with us to Haj, which includes the agencies who aid the transportation of pilgrims, medical volunteers including doctors, nurses and paramedics and also the administrators."
Dr Al Baqqara said routine inspections of accommodation housing Bahraini pilgrims will also be increased.
"We will also inspect food outlets where these pilgrims are mostly eating from," he explained.
"Some of the pilgrims from Bahrain are seen consuming camel milk and meat, and they will be educated on refraining from this, with the Ebola alert on.
"We also recommend that the pilgrims do not choose overcrowded accommodation, and ensure hygienic environment, which is vital for any virus threat of this kind."
He added that Bahraini pilgrims will have to attend educational workshops on both viruses.
"All pilgrims exiting and entering Bahrain will be checked, while those coming back from Haj with fever or initial symptoms of the virus will be quarantined for further checks," he said.
"We have plans to meet all pilgrims and agents from Bahrain as soon as we reach Makkah to instruct them and we also plan to get into some kind of an agreement, if possible to ensure the pilgrims follow our instructions.
"We aim to prevent the spread of the virus and to eliminate any chance of the virus entering the country."
However, Dr Al Baqqara ruled out the risk of Bahrainis getting infected with Ebola while in Mecca, saying the steps were just precautionary.
"Ebola virus is not air borne and is spread through close body contact or through secretions," he added.
"Even during the H1N1 scare, we didn't see any major issues reported and in case of Ebola, as pilgrims from Bahrain are not in close contact with the people from the infected countries, it is highly unlikely."
Meanwhile, Health Ministry public health and primary healthcare assistant under-secretary Dr Maryam Al Jalahma said emergency plans were essential to fight the virus, despite Bahrain being under WHO's 'low-risk' category.
"Key focus on the emergency plan will be the Haj pilgrims - mainly awareness programmes, where they will be trained how to be prepared to fight the Ebola virus before their trip, during their trip and after their trip," she said.
The GDN reported yesterday that GCC health ministers will meet in Riyadh next week to assess their contingency plans in the wake of the outbreak in West Africa.
Bahraini authorities have identified 42 African expatriates who have travelled to the Ebola hit nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria within the past one month. They have all tested negative for the virus. - TradeArabia News Service