A man affected by the scorching heat is helped by a member of the Saudi security forces as pilgrims arrive to perform the symbolic 'stoning of the devil' ritual as part of the Hajj pilgrimage in Mina, near Mecca
A man affected by the scorching heat is helped by a member of the Saudi security forces as pilgrims arrive to perform the symbolic 'stoning of the devil' ritual as part of the Hajj pilgrimage in Mina, near MeccaPhoto | AFP

Cardiovascular disease, heatstroke among reasons for deaths of Indians undertaking Hajj: Centre

The document released by the Union Health Ministry came out after at least 98 Indians died during this year’s Hajj pilgrimage, which was marked by searing heat and intense high temperatures.

NEW DELHI: Cardiovascular disease, pre-existing chronic illnesses, stroke and even heat exhaustion and heatstroke are some of the leading causes for the deaths of Indians who undertook the Hajj pilgrimage in 2023, a government report released Friday said.

“Pilgrims undertaking the Hajj pilgrimage face various health risks, primarily due to the summer timing of the pilgrimage, extreme temperatures reaching up to 49-50 degrees Celsius, and the dense clustering of people in confined areas, including open spaces,” said the document ‘medical care arrangements for Hajj pilgrimage.’

The document, released by the Union Health Ministry, which has been making comprehensive medical care arrangements for Hajj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia for the past two years, came out after at least 98 Indians died during this year’s Hajj pilgrimage, which was marked by searing heat and intense high temperatures. Last year, a total of 187 Indians died during the Hajj pilgrimage.

As many as 1,000 people are reported to have been killed during the Hajj pilgrimage this year due to extreme heat in Saudi Arabia.

The report said that “heat exhaustion and heatstroke are prevalent health concerns during Hajj, exacerbated by the scorching temperatures and physically demanding rituals.”

“Pilgrims, often inadequately acclimatised, engage in strenuous activities in exposed areas with limited shade, leading to heat-related illnesses such as heatstroke and dehydration,” it added.

The crowded conditions during Hajj contribute to an increased risk of infectious diseases, including meningococcal disease and respiratory tract infections.

Sharing data, the report said, last year, 72 per cent of pilgrims reported respiratory diseases, followed by 14 per cent suffering from diabetes, which it pointed out worsens due to physical exertion and changes in the routine.

The report stressed that cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death during Hajj, with around six per cent of pilgrims found to be suffering from cardiac diseases last year.

While four per cent of pilgrims reported suffering from gastrointestinal diseases, one per cent reported skin diseases last year.

Speaking on the occasion, Union Health Secretary Apurva Chandra said around 1,20,000 pilgrims undertook the Hajj pilgrimage this year from India, of which approximately 40,000 are older adults above 60.

“Given the harsh weather conditions this year, the health challenges have necessitated round-the-clock services for the pilgrims,” he said.

He said that with the help of the National Informatics Centre (NIC), a live portal has been developed that provides real-time data and analysis of the pilgrims seeking medical care and the services being provided.

“We are continuously monitoring, and this will help us improve our services significantly so that we become the beacon of excellence to be emulated by other countries,” he added.

The document, which institutionalises comprehensive healthcare planning for Indian Hajj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia involving multiple stakeholders and lays down the roadmap of health services and how the pilgrims can avail of those services, said the physical demands of Hajj can precipitate ischemia or myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack, especially in individuals with pre-existing cardiac conditions.

Apart from pilgrims being at risk of developing strokes during Hajj, the dense movement of pilgrims between holy sites increases the risk of trauma, including fractures from falls and road traffic accidents.

Incidents of head and eye injuries are reported, with stampedes being a particularly feared hazard.

Although rare, fire-related injuries are also a concern, it pointed out.

In 1997, a fire in the Mina area caused significant devastation, resulting from open stoves igniting makeshift tents, leading to 343 fatalities and over 1500 estimated casualties. Following this tragedy, the report added that all temporary tents were replaced with permanent fibreglass structures.

“Given the elderly demographic of pilgrims, there may be instances of urgent surgical needs or the onset of persistent conditions during Haj,” the document said.

The ministry said 356 doctors and paramedics have been deputed for medical care of Hajj pilgrims, while about 2 lakh OPDs have been conducted.

The medical care arrangements provided by the ministry include revising the medical screening and fitness certificate used to assess the health and fitness of Hajj applicants in India, giving health cards to select Hajj pilgrims for their journey and stay in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), providing vaccines to states for organising vaccination camps, establishing health desks at embarkation points, delegation of healthcare personnel with the support of Minority Affairs ministry and setting up of medical infrastructure at various sites in KSA.

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