JEDDAH: 24th November, 2009 (6 Dhul Hijjah 1430)
A team of eight British doctors, all volunteers, have opened clinics and health-care points in Makkah this week to provide on-the-spot health care to UK pilgrims.
The doctors are part of the 10th British Haj Delegation, led by Lord Adam Patel for the 9th consecutive year. The delegation also includes consular staff to deal with lost documents and repatriation should the need arise. The team will be based in Makkah but will be traveling to Mina and Arafat during the Haj.
“Members of the Ministry of Haj are now just like members of the family,” said Lord Patel. “They know me and I know all of them. In that respect that makes dealing with procedures very easy.”
He added that for many years, the UK was the only country sending a dedicated delegation. “Certainly we were the first. We were overwhelmed with EU nationals and Americans requesting treatment, and I asked Jack Straw to speak with their foreign ministers — which he did. I understand that they responded and some are sending teams.” Dr. Mohammed Jiva, who is on his sixth consecutive year with the delegation, said that pilgrims coming to the clinics presented fairly minor complaints, mainly viral infections, blisters, abrasions, slight dehydration, and muscular aches and pains.
“The stuff we would expect to see as minor complaints in the UK. Anything that was serious would not come to us and would go straight to the hospital,” he said.
He confirmed the amount of cases the team are currently dealing with is about the same as in previous years, adding that the number of cases would increase once pilgrims reach Mina. “That usually is the high-demand-area when pilgrims are in close proximity and infections spread a lot quicker.”
Jiva said that the delegation is particularly anticipating H1N1.
The team has adopted a profile that they hope improves on previous years. Their main base is about a kilometer from the Grand Mosque, but this year doctors will disperse to locations around the Grand Mosque to make it easier for pilgrims to access health care.
The doctors take medications with them to dispense on the spot, obviating the need for pilgrims to find pharmacies. Each doctor sets up in the site in the reception area of a hotel or in a restaurant area for maximum visibility.
Whilst the health-care service is restricted to British pilgrims, because the drugs are funded by the National Health Service, the doctors bring their own medication that they have purchased. “Where we feel that someone really needs it, for example if they are elderly and frail, then we will provide it from our own stocks,” said Jiva.
The eight doctors are here on a purely charitable basis. “Most either take annual leave to cover this, or find locum cover back home to be here. We are not funded to come here and our intention is to provide a charitable service. We don’t want to turn anyone away for being non-British, but we do have to work within certain guidelines,” said Jiva.
Ahmed Patel, one of the two consular officers working on the Haj this year, said that 18,000 British pilgrims are expected to perform Haj this year compared to 23,000 last year.
Patel, now on his fourth delegation, arrived a week earlier and had laid the groundwork for the group. “We initiated the advertising in the UK by working with mosques and community centers, websites and an official launch by Foreign Secretary David Milliband,” he said.
Patel said that the requests for assistance this year had started relatively slowly and that this year there were no impending problems waiting to be solved when he arrived.
The recurring problem was, he said, with rogue Haj tour operators. “They manage to get pilgrims here and promise them some very high standards of service that are not met on arrival. This causes friction but is mainly a commercial issue between customer and supplier,” he said.
He complimented the Ministry of Haj which he said provided excellent service if they were contacted. “We had some issues last year where people were housed in some very substandard places — the Ministry intervened and help the pilgrims out. They do routine inspections and in previous years when we have approached them, they have been extremely helpful.”