Fears Mus­lim pil­grims bring home dis­eases

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - JANE HANSEN

THEY will re­turn hav­ing un­der­taken what is the sum­mit of their re­li­gious lives, but doc­tors have warned Aus­tralian Mus­lims mak­ing their pil­grim­age to Mecca are at risk of bring­ing home dis­eases.

Mis­in­for­ma­tion pe­cu­liar to the Mus­lim com­mu­nity about vac­ci­na­tions, and close con­tact with fel­low pil­grims from na­tions with poor vac­ci­na­tion rates who de­scend on the Saudi holy city mean Aus­tralians who un­der­take the Hajj are at sig­nif­i­cant risk of con­tract­ing a pre­ventable disease.

More than three mil­lion Mus­lims from around the world will travel to Mecca be­tween Au­gust 30 and Septem­ber 4 this year.

An es­ti­mated 4000 Aus­tra- lians are ex­pected to make the spir­i­tual jour­ney this year, and Aus­tralian Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Dr Michael Gan­non said health ex­perts were con­cerned about pil­grims bring­ing back in­fec­tious dis­eases.

“There’s been great sus­pi­cion about vac­ci­na­tion pro­grams in iso­lated parts of the Mus­lim world and the Hajj rep­re­sents a unique en­vi­ron­ment where mil­lions of peo­ple are in close prox­im­ity to each other,” Dr Gan­non said.

“It is the per­fect en­vi­ron­ment for the spread of highly in­fec­tious dis­eases like measles. What we have seen in re­cent years is that un­der­vac­ci­nated adults vis­it­ing In­done­sia and Malaysia have ac­quired measles from those who have re­turned from Hajj.

“It’s a re­minder that we live in one world. These highly in­fec­tious dis­eases like measles are ready to grab you.”

Dr Gan­non said im­mu­ni­sa­tion pro­grams in some Mid­dle Eastern coun­tries have been un­der­mined. “We are down to only two or three coun­tries in the world where po­lio re­mains a threat,” he said. “Two of those coun­tries are Pak­istan and Afghanistan.”

While vac­ci­na­tion rates among chil­dren are high in post­codes such as Auburn and Bankstown, which have high Mus­lim pop­u­la­tions, adult vac­ci­na­tion in these ar­eas is low.

“Aus­tralians trav­el­ling to the Hajj should make an ap­point­ment to see their doc­tor … as they are po­ten­tially ex­pos­ing them­selves or their loved ones,” Dr Gan­non said.

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