by Azubuike Azikiwe
Saudi Arabia says it has no plans to ban Nigerian pilgrims from attending the annual hajj, despite the presence of Ebola virus disease in the country.
Although the Middle East country has barred pilgrims from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea from the hajj due to Ebola concerns, it says Nigerians can enter the country because the outbreak of the virus is smaller and less worrying.
According to the World Health Organization statistics, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have a combined death toll of 2,097, while Nigeria has recorded 7 deaths out of 19 cases.
In April, Saudi Arabia announced that it would not issue visas for the 2014 hajj to pilgrims from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea due to the Ebola outbreak in those countries.
The Arab News daily quoted the deputy health minister, Mohammed Al-Khasheem, as saying there was no need to worry about Nigerians coming on pilgrimage.
He said, “We have not stopped issuing hajj visas to Nigerians and we know that about 70,000 pilgrims come from the African country every year. The WHO knows the situation in Mina and Arafat during the hajj season and there is no need to worry about a few Ebola cases that have occurred in Nigeria.”
“We have taken precautionary measures to prevent an Ebola outbreak in the Kingdom during the hajj season,” Al-Khasheem said. “We have made early preparations for the annual pilgrimage,” he added.
Al-Khasheem stated that his ministry’s department for preventive medicine is in constant contact with the WHO on the latest developments on Ebola and other infectious diseases.