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People in fragile health reminded to forgo Haj

The Health Authority-Abu Dhabi sends out text messages saying some people should not undertake pilgrimages to Mecca this year.

Abu Dhabi // The Health Authority-Abu Dhabi has sent out text messages saying some people should not undertake pilgrimages to Mecca this year. The messages urged elderly people, pregnant women, children and those with chronic diseases not to undertake Haj and Umrah in 2009. The messages did not state a reason, but the advice was in line with a decision taken by Arab health ministers in July that, to contain the spread of swine flu, people in certain high-risk groups should not travel to Mecca.

A spokesman for the authority said the messages were sent to people in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Al Gharbia. Munira Mahmud, 24, a master's student, said the text messages were a good idea but she was unsure how effective they would be. "I think if people want to go to Haj, they will go anyway," she said. "It is more of a religious duty. But maybe it will be good, if some people aren't aware. They can make their own choices."

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that pregnant women, young children, the elderly and those with chronic diseases are most at risk of serious complications from infection with H1N1, the virus that causes swine flu. Two of the six people who the media reported to have died of swine flu in the UAE were pregnant women, and another was an eight-month-old baby. The Saudi health ministry said in August that prospective pilgrims would have to postpone their journey to Mecca if they had chronic ailments such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease. A ministry statement said requests by such people to attend would be "postponed" until their situation improved.

Up to Saturday, Saudi Arabia had had 4,119 confirmed cases of the virus and 28 deaths, the WHO said. munderwood@thenational.ae

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