In 2023, the Hajj pilgrimage witnessed its largest gathering since the Covid-19 pandemic, with a staggering 1.8 million people embarking on the sacred journey to Makkah. As one of the five pillars of Islam, the annual pilgrimage holds immense significance, drawing millions of Muslims from across the globe to converge on the holy city of Mecca for several days of religious rituals. While ensuring the health and safety of the pilgrims has always been a top priority for Saudi Arabia, this year’s efforts have been particularly applauded by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for their exceptional approach during the Hajj season.
Remarkably, despite the sheer magnitude of attendees, there have been no major accidents or outbreaks of disease reported. This achievement stands as a testament to the meticulous planning and robust healthcare measures implemented by the Saudi authorities.
The WHO’s literature review on the Hajj pilgrimage highlights the unique public health challenges associated with the event. Taking place in the twelfth month of the lunar calendar for five days, the timing of the Hajj has varied over the years. In the last decade, it occurred in fall and winter, while the upcoming decade will see it taking place in summer months, bringing with it a different set of health concerns and risk of dominant diseases.
In preparation for this changing landscape, the Saudi government has been actively expanding its infectious disease surveillance capabilities. The development of a web-based healthcare network and the increase in healthcare facilities have been instrumental in bolstering the country’s capacity to respond to health-related challenges.
Notably, Saudi Arabia has integrated cutting-edge technology and AI advancements into its pilgrimage management. High-tech hospitality, AI algorithms for crowd control, smart lanes, and barcode systems have all been introduced to enhance the pilgrim experience. Additionally, the collaboration with digital updates for weather and healthcare has further improved the overall management of the event.
The success of the 2023 Hajj season can also be attributed to the enduring partnership between Saudi Arabia and WHO, spanning over six decades. The Kingdom has consistently supported the WHO’s global health initiatives and emergency-related operations in various countries, contributing over $385 million. This commitment to international health initiatives has only grown stronger over the years.
However, with the threat of the virus still looming, the Ministry of Health reported that around 6,500 individuals were treated for heatstroke, as the pilgrimage coincided with one of the hottest periods of the year. Nevertheless, around 32,000 dedicated healthcare professionals worked tirelessly to ensure that medical services, including hospital beds, supplies, and ambulance activity, were readily available for those in need.
The successful handling of the 2023 #Hajj season by Saudi Arabia showcases the nation’s unwavering commitment to the well-being of all pilgrims. Through a combination of meticulous planning, robust healthcare measures, and innovative technologies, the Kingdom continues to set an exemplary standard for hosting this monumental gathering safely and securely.