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Meningitis vaccine for Haj,Umrah pilgrims a must, seminar told


We must accord vaccination prior to embarking on Haj and Umrah all the necessary urgency, and in this endeavour the media and the civil society have an indispensable role to play in the form of creating awareness and coming forward with plans and projects to make vaccination accessible to all in these days of extreme inflation and financial stringency.

These views were expressed by Kishwar Zehra, MQM MNA and one of the leading social workers in town, while speaking as chief guest at a seminar titled, “Need for and the uses of vaccination on the occasion of Haj and Umrah”. The seminar was organized by the Mir Khalil-ur-Rehman Memorial Society at a local hotel on Saturday afternoon.

She said the media should better focus on issues like health, especially preventive and immunization, which also implied vaccination against meningitis and other communicable diseases for those embarking on Haj and Umrah.

Earlier, Dr Shahzad Saleem said meningitis preventive shots must be made compulsory for intending Hajis and those proceeding on Umrah as meningitis was a highly infectious disease and spreads most often from places with large crowds. Since there were hundreds of thousands of people from the world over on Haj, chances of the disease spreading were quite a lot, he said. Meningitis, he said, could cause death within 12 hours. In case of children who survived the diseases, there were so many complications after the diseases that the individual was so disabled that life for him was just like death, he added.

Sindh health secretary Hashim Reza Zaidi, alluding to the dishonesty prevailing all over, said that in case there were 400,000 intending Hajis and 300,000 pieces of vaccine were imported, “then we have to scratch our heads and determine how the other 100,000 managed to go on Haj when there were 100,000 vaccines short.”

He answered his own question, saying that there were unscrupulous travel agents and other clandestine organisations that sold fake vaccination certificates. He underlined the need to clamp on such malpractices and called for creating awareness about the indispensable need for the vaccination.

The health secretary said that apart from the government, travel agents should also produce brochures and adopt other means of informing intending pilgrims about the urgency of anti-meningitis shots and acquaint them with the dangers arising from being in overly crowded places as places with large crowds served as ideal breeding ground for diseases like meningitis.

That was why, he said, the government of Saudi Arabia had made it compulsory for all pilgrims to be vaccinated against the killer disease before being allowed entry into Saudi Arabia.

Dr Farida Habib, in her detailed and incisive lecture, highlighted the lethal nature of the disorder and listed as causes the sharing of utensils, meeting intimately, and large crowds as the chief causative factors behind the disease. In the case of the last-mentioned, she said that most human beings were carriers of various germs and bacteria and the greater the numbers, the more the chances of infection. She said that at Haj there were hundreds of thousands of people. People, she said, were also likely to bring back germs and bacteria and cause infection at home.

She cited the findings of a study conducted in Singapore in 2001 which said that 35-40 percent of returning Hajis came back as carriers of the disease.

Yayha Polani, president of the Travel Agents Association of Pakistan (TAAP), said that it was observed that if there were 180,000 pilgrims only 140,000 were vaccinated. How the remaining 40,000 found their way over to Saudi Arabia, he asked and said it was all because of unscrupulous elements who were preying on the intense desire of the intending pilgrims to fulfil the life-long ambition of performing the scared ritual.

Others who spoke were Dr Aamir Abdullah, Abdul Razaak, Abdul Sattar, Director Haj Mufti Muhammad Jehangir, and Ahmed Bilgrami.

Wasif Nagi conducted the proceedings and Arshad Sabri of the Mir Khalil-ur-Rehman Society distributed bouquets among the speakers.