Mass-gathering health and the Hajj

hajj_arabic_image1The infectious disease arm of the venerated British medical journal The Lancet has announced it will partner with the Ministry of Health, Saudi Arabia to host a major conference on “mass gathering medicine.” The complexities involved in providing for health needs at mass gatherings can be daunting. Nations hosting mass gatherings have to find surge capacity to provide for near instantaneous, highly concentrated population explosion.

Among the challenges:

-Communicable disease detection, alerting, and response

-Water and sanitation

-Travel medicine and environmental health

-Vaccination strategies

-Managing international health regulations

-Crowd control

-Responding to medical and health emergencies

In many cases, participants may arrive at the Hajj from countries whose health infrastructures or surgical capacities are far lower than that of their Saudi hosts. Does this present opportunities?

After hosting the annual Hajj for generations, Saudi Arabia has developed special expertise in mass gathering medicine, and is probably well suited to play host. From a research and even advocacy perspective, a mass gathering such as the Hajj has tremendous potential. When you bring several hundreds of thousands of people together from around the world, who are united by one common experience, should we consider how we might capture or focus some of this sense of purpose?

Acutely, how might you implement a low-tech means of reporting health needs in a manner that accommodates a vast linguistic, cultural and literacy spectrum?

Are there opportunities for mass vaccination, or the provision of other public health education or services?

While concerns arise from the potential health implications of diseases’ going viral, could there be international health opportunities gained from using mass gatherings to promote outbreaks of social ideals and activism in the hope that they go viral?

Photo credit: Ministry of Health, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia