Fears Muslim pilgrims bring home diseases
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.