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Arab countries to exclude elderly, children from pilgrimage
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Arab health ministers on Wednesday agreed to exclude certain groups including the elderly, children and the ill from Muslim pilgrimage in a bid to curb the spread of A/H1N1 flu.

In a draft resolution in a special session of the Regional Committee for World Health Organization (WHO) Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office on pandemic H1N1 in Cairo, health Minister of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt decided to take more measures for Hajj and Umrah (pilgrimage to Mecca at any time of the year).

People who are under the age of 12 or over 65 and people who suffer from chronic diseases like blood pressure, kidney and liver would not be permitted to go for Hajj and Umrah, Hussein Gezairy, WHO Regional director for Eastern Mediterranean, said at a press conference.

Gezairy said the current evidence from the global experience shows that cancellation of mass gatherings does not necessarily lead to containment of transmission of the virus.

However, mitigation of the spread of the flu in mass gatherings can be aimed at by the proper application of non-pharmaceutical measures such as community level social distancing, good personal hygiene and use of personal protective equipment, he said.

Meanwhile, Saudi Health Minister Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz said the ministry initiated all measures necessary to detect the disease and to protect both its citizens and expatriates.

Regional Committee for WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office called the member states to take some additional precautions so as to reduce the number of deaths and infections.

Among these precautions is to make into effect the general health precautionary measures during Hajj and Umrah recommended by the international consultative workshop held in Jeddah on June 27-30.

The draft resolution said Saudi Arabia would turn these health precautionary measures into preconditions for Hajj and Umrah this year.

Egypt's Health Minister Hatem el-Gabli said there would be some accredited medical centers in Egypt and Saudi Arabia to check the health condition of people going to Hajj and Umrah.

Egypt's Ministry of Health confirmed on Sunday the first influenza A/H1N1 death, the first such case in the country and the Middle East region.

Earlier, Egypt's Health Ministry officials warned of the risk A/H1N1 flu poses to the millions of Muslim pilgrims who travel to Saudi Arabia every year.

Egyptian Mufti Sheikh Ali Gomaa said on Tuesday that the elder and sick people are allowed to postpone Umrah and to cancel Hajj this year.

The number of cases of the flu cases in the Arab countries has been growing, with Saudi Arabia recording the highest number of cases.

So far, the novel flu virus has caused more than 95,000 infections in some 136 countries and regions, with more than 700 people died after being infected by the disease worldwide, according to latest figures released by the WHO, which on June 11 formally announced the first pandemic in the 21st century.

The WHO announced on Thursday that it will stop tracking A/H1N1cases, saying that the pandemic is the fastest growing ever and it is pointless to count each case.

However it called on countries to continue to report clusters of severe cases or deaths caused by the new virus or unusual clinical patterns.

(Xinhua News Agency July 23, 2009)

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