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MENAFN - Muscat Daily - 19/06/2014
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(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) Keeping in mind the upcoming Umrah and Hajj pilgrimages, Oman is leaving no stone unturned to prevent MERS-CoV infections among pilgrims from the sultanate. 

Following recommendations of the World Health Organization's (WHO) previous International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee meetings, the Ministry of Heath (MoH) has asked people with chronic illnesses to postpone the pilgrimages.

Speaking to Muscat Daily, Dr Abdullah Assaedi, the WHO representative in Oman said, ''Oman has not reported a positive case in 2014. However, MoH is making every effort to adhere to these guidelines, particularly ensuring infection prevention and control measures are in place and that health workers are vigilant and conduct all critical investigations at the earliest if a potential case is identified.''

Another WHO official said, ''As of May 2014, more than 635 cases of MERS-CoV have been reported to WHO. He said that it is important for countries to use all practical means possible to communicate information before, during and after Umrah and Hajj to all key groups, particularly those who are vulnerable, public health officials, healthcare staff responsible for pilgrims' care, transportation and tourism industries and the general public.''

To prepare for the pilgrimages countries should advise travellers with pre-existing major medical conditions (like diabetes, chronic lung disease, immunodeficiency) to consult a healthcare provider before travel.

''Specific emphasis should be placed on hand and respiratory hygiene (covering mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, washing hands, and keeping a distance of one metre from persons showing symptoms of an respiratory illness),'' the official said, adding that food safety practices were also important.

Working with travel and tourism agencies and placing advisormaterial at strategic locations like points of departure at airports can be a way of making information available to all pilgrims, he said.

WHO has recommended countries should ensure that they have access to adequate laboratory services for testing for MERS-CoV and that information on how to obtain laboratory services and clinical referral is known to healthcare providers. ''Medical staff accompanying the pilgrims should be provided with the latest information ensuring they are alert to early signs of respiratory infections, know who is considered to be in high-risk group, and know what to do when a suspected case is identified,'' he said.

He said countries should advise travellers that if they develop a significant acute respiratory illness with fever, they should report to the medical staff accompanying the group or to local health services and preferably isolate themselves until the symptoms end and use a surgical mask.

Pilgrims should also seek medical attention if they develop acute respiratory trouble with fever during two weeks after return. ''Countries should alert health practitioners and facilities to test returning travellers with a clinical presentation that suggests the diagnosis of MERS-CoV. Confirmed cases must be reported to WHO.''


Important WHO guidelines

For nations

Post health advisories for pilgrims at strategic locations like airports

Ensure access to healthcare facilities

Coordinate with tour and travel agencies

Train healthcare workers on identifying symptoms


For pilgrims

Avoid travel if suffering from chronic ailments or seek a healthcare practitioner's advice

Ensure hand and mouth hygiene and follow food safety practices

Seek medical attention in case of a respiratory ailment

Wear surgical masks when in crowded p


Muscat Daily

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