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HAJJ and Your Health

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Written by Dr. Murtala Muhammad Umar

Consultant Ophthalmologist


Permit me to start by congratulating the over two million Muslims worldwide that attended to this year’s obligatory hajj rites. It is indeed a prevailage for Allah to give you the physical, financial and spiritual means to visit the holy land. There is no doubt that the health challenges facing intending pilgrims are enormous and thus the need to be fully prepared. Apart from the health challenges of bringing over 2 million people together, the various acts of worship associated with hajj operation require physical, social and psychological well being of every pilgrim. We shall look at the heath challenges before, during and after hajj operation with the view to maximizing the spiritual and health benefits of the pilgrimage.

The various hajj rites such as circumambulation of the ka’aba, movement between Safa and Marwa, standing at the Arafat, and stoning of the jumrat, require sound health to be performed optimally. Every intending pilgrim should visit a doctor for full medical examination and advice. Pregnant women are advised not to insist on going to hajj for the result is disheartening. Nigerian women have had abortion or premature delivery in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the past. These women only succeed in not only mourning the lost of an unborn child but bringing shame to themselves, their families and Nigeria at large. Intending pilgrims with chronic illness such as diabetes and hypertension need to consult their physicians for health advice. Diabetics in particular have a major challenge of dietary compliance during the pilgrimage. Blood pressure and sugar must be well controlled before embarking on the journey. People with phobia for crowd need to consult a clinical psychologist/psychiatrist to avoid psychological/psychiatrist imbalance.  There is need to maintain strict hygiene at the hajj camp to prevent outbreak of communicable disease such as cholera and meningitis. This underscores the importance of vaccinating each and every intending pilgrim against common communicable diseases. It would do pilgrim no good to bribe his or her way to get a certified yellow card without receiving the immunization. Majority of the pilgrims are first timers to air transportation. The rigours of traveling by air could cause a lot of anxiety in addition to shortness of breath associated with high altitude due to low oxygen tension. We also need to know that the weather in Saudi Arabia could be extremely hot or cold. Pilgrims need to carry along appropriate clothes that would match the swinging weather.

During the hajj pilgrims are expected to perform all the hajj rites in a manner that will not jeopardize their health. Islamic scholars have given so many concessions to making hajj hitch free. Dear pilgrim -safety- should be your watch word as you carry out your religious function. A wise pilgrim will avoid peak hours in performing all the hajj rites so as to minimize life threatening hazards. Environmental and personal hygiene must be ensured in places pilgrims are accommodated and the holy mosques. Traditionally, National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) recruit sanitation officers that go round to ensure compliance. This is highly commendable and should be maintained. As part of the hajj rites pilgrims are expected to barb their scalp hair. They should preferably use their private clippers or ensure they patronize legal barbers to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis.

The use of umbrella and drinking enough water would help reduce the risk of heat stroke in case of high temperatures. Individual with chronic medical condition should, on arrival, visit the medical team to acquaint them of    their condition for necessary support. They should also get their routine drugs from the medical team since they are not allowed to travel with drugs. It would be difficult to observe some of the dos and don’ts prescribe by your doctor in the holy land nevertheless, you must do your best to stick to medical advice. Worthy of mention is dietary compliance by diabetics. Non dietary compliance couple with the stress of hajj could easily precipitate crisis. Also, diabetics should always remember to eat food along with their drugs to prevent tilting to hypoglycaemia. Pilgrims suffering from asthma are advice to have their life saving inhalers with them and avoid crowd as much as they can.

After hajj a lot of people suffer what experts call ‘post hajj syndrome’ characterize by fatigue, malaise, muscle ache, headache, suntan, insomnia, cold and flu. These symptoms are as a result of prolonged exposure to the sun, excessive movement, lack of physical fitness and exposure to the flu and cold viruses. Happily, these symptoms are short lived and resolve with symptomatic treatment. Pilgrims that suffer from hypertension, diabetes mellitus, asthma and other chronic ailments should see their doctors as soon as they return home for medical evaluation.

The benefits of hajj is not only limited to spiritual cleansing, the various hajj rites are accompanied by a form of exercise that promotes the physical and mental wellbeing of the worshiper. They must however avoid exhaustion, and perform the various acts of worship as much as their physical state can allow. This column once again, congratulates all pilgrims and wishes them a hitch free pilgrimage.  Hajjul mabrur.

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