Establishment of public health security in Saudi Arabia for the 2009 Hajj in response to pandemic influenza A H1N1.Lancet. 2009 Nov 21; 374(9703):1786-91.Lct
Mass gatherings of people challenge public health capacities at host locations and the visitors' places of origin. Hajj--the yearly pilgrimage by Muslims to Saudi Arabia--is one of the largest, most culturally and geographically diverse mass gatherings in the world. With the 2009 pandemic influenza A H1N1 and upcoming Hajj, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health (MoH) convened a preparedness consultation in June, 2009. Consultants from global public health agencies met in their official capacities with their Saudi Arabian counterparts. The MoH aimed to pool and share public health knowledge about mass gatherings, and review the country's preparedness plans, focusing on the prevention and control of pandemic influenza. This process resulted in several practical recommendations, many to be put into practice before the start of Hajj and the rest during Hajj. These preparedness plans should ensure the optimum provision of health services for pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, and minimum disease transmission on their return home. Review of the implementation of these recommendations and their effect will not only inform future mass gatherings in Saudi Arabia, but will also strengthen preparedness efforts in other settings.