JEDDAH: Health Minister Khalid Al-Falih has expressed his deepest condolences to the families of those who died in the Mina stampede and wished a speedy recovery to the injured.
In a report on the Health Ministry’s activities leading up to, and during, Haj 2015, he noted that a thorough investigation into the causes of the tragedy is underway at the direction of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman.
The report outlines the major incidents impacting this year’s Haj, including preventive health care preparations undertaken to support the pilgrimage and the care provided to all pilgrims as well as those directly affected by the crane crash and the stampede.
“Tracking, analyzing and reporting on Haj care is an important management process which ensures that effective actions continue to improve and that improvement areas are addressed,” Al-Falih said. “We take this obligation very seriously,” he wrote in the report.
The report has outlined the ministry’s response to the crane collapse before the Haj and the extensive precautionary measures to safeguard pilgrims against communicable diseases and the quick emergency response to the tragic stampede. He also commended medical professionals and emergency response teams for their efforts throughout the period.
“Thanks to our readiness and combined expertise, including lessons learned from the recent crane collapse, we were able to activate care teams immediately and provide for the injured, utilizing all available medical and other resources. In coordination with other government sectors, the Health Ministry successfully contained the accident and dedicated all its human and technical resources to both responding to the accident and extending all necessary care to the victims.”
Despite the impact of the two accidents, the clinical care capacity of the national medial system was not affected, he said. “We currently maintain 700+ standard care beds and 90+ intensive care beds in hospitals across the Haj area that are able to provide continuing care for other patients despite the surge in care for emergency victims.”
Al-Falih noted that an Emergency Response Center was set up at Mina Hospital where he, along with ministry personnel, directed emergency plans in real time throughout the crisis along with officials from Civil Defense and the Saudi Red Crescent Authority.
“More than 250 physicians, nurses and medics were immediately on site to evaluate and treat the injured,” Al-Falih reported. “At the same time, the hospitals receiving the pilgrims were supported by increased staffing from specialized medical facilities across the Kingdom.”
He said an encampment near Mina was converted to a field care center where initial medical screening and assessment took place prior to patient transport to specialized hospitals. He noted that 52 medical cases were transported by helicopter to specialized treatment sites and that more than 1,500 international calls were dealt with in order to provide additional information.
To address the emergencies resulting from the stampede, in-patients in stable medical condition at all nearby hospitals were relocated to appropriate facilities in order to provide close proximity care for all the emergency victims, he said. “Medical teams were deployed and coordinated seamlessly across government sectors, such as the National Guard, Armed Forces and Public Security Hospitals to ensure the entire universe of medial care was available to care for everyone in need,” said Al-Falih.
The threat of communicable diseases and epidemics is always a concern when large numbers of people gather, and the Health Ministry conducted health inspections of all visiting pilgrims to minimize risk. More than 1.3 million pilgrims were checked at 15 health surveillance centers set up at land, sea and air ports. Beyond just health assessment, the teams delivered preventative care to thousands of pilgrims by administering more than 400,000 doses of meningitis and polio vaccines.
For the first time, an early-warning health monitoring system was activated. It successfully reported suspected communicable diseases which resulted in immediate isolation and care for the affected patients while preventing further infection.
Other firsts this season included an epidemiological investigation unit and an environmental health program, which monitored food and water to ensure proper storage methods and temperatures to prevent food poisoning. Health awareness programs also were available in eight different languages.
Al-Falih put the toll of the Mina stampede at 769 dead and 934 injured.