Sunblock and Footwear Key to Hajj Wellbeing - Study
Thu Jan 13, 7:03 PM ET
LONDON (Reuters) - Pilgrims should stock up on sunblock and shoes before starting the five-day haj pilgrimage this month, a British Muslim doctor said on Friday.
More than two million Muslims from all over the world make the voyage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the annual Islamic ritual, some 20,000 of them British.
This year's Haj, in which pilgrims retrace the footsteps of Islam's prophet Mohammad, is due to peak on January 20.
During the ritual, pilgrims have to endure long exposure to sun and heat, traveling long distances in desert conditions.
"A lot of people are prepared spiritually when they go, but physically they're just not," professor Abdul Rashid Gatrad told Reuters.
A report co-authored by consultant pediatrician Gatrad in the British Medical Journal aims to raise awareness among British GPs who can offer advice to pilgrims when they come for vaccinations before their travels.
Haj-associated heath risks include heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and infectious diseases.
Acclimatization is crucial. Gatrad advises pilgrims to travel to Saudi Arabia some two weeks before the start of Haj if possible.
But stocking up on even the most basic medicines and first aid supplies is also advisable.
"Saudi Arabian facilities and services become hopelessly inadequate because of the numbers of people there. No matter what they can do, it is not enough," he said.
Stampedes are known as the greatest cause of serious injuries, and even fatalities. But minor injuries can become equally risky if left untreated, Gatrad said.
In most cases they can be easily avoided by using common sense preventative measures, like drinking plenty of water.
Gatrad advises pilgrims to take white umbrellas and sunblock.
He also suggests they carry spare footwear as shoes can easily be lost during barefoot rituals. Foot injuries are a common problem when pilgrims return home, he said.
The pilgrimage takes place in the 12th month of the Islamic year, which began on Wednesday. Islamic years are lunar and thus dates depend on sighting of the moon.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can afford the trip must perform haj, one of the five pillars of Islam, once in his or her lifetime.