Saudi Arabia Is Under Threat of a Cholera Outbreak as Hajj Nears

The cholera outbreak in nearby Yemen is the worst in the world.
July 17, 2017, 4:00am
Photo by VICE News staff

This article originally appeared on VICE News.

Though the Saudi-led coalition may have wanted to keep its war in Yemen at arm's length, the cholera epidemic — a "direct consequence" of two years of conflict — is not bound by borders.

In fact, it may invade one of Saudi Arabia's most renowned events, the annual Hajj.

The World Health Organization warned Friday that cholera could pose a "serious risk" to the millions of Muslims from all over the world descending on Mecca in September to perform annual the pilgrimage.

"The current highly spreading outbreak of cholera in Yemen, as well as in some African countries, may represent a serious risk to all pilgrims during the [hajj] days and even after returning to their countries," the WHO bulletin said.

Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Health has taken extensive precautionary measures to secure the Hajj from epidemics, establishing a Command and Control Center to monitor suspicious cases, requiring vaccinations, and even suggesting wearing face masks. In the past, it has been known for requiring pilgrims to submit to health screenings, even setting up thermal cameras to monitor body temperature.

The cholera epidemic in Yemen is currently the worst in the world. Since April, cholera has swept through Yemen, killing one person every hour and infecting over over 300,000, with thousands more confirmed cases every day. Health officials attempting to curb Yemen's ravaging outbreak believe the crisis could have been preventable, but instead was exacerbated by crippled medical facilities, a shortage of supplies, and damaged transport infrastructure.

"This deadly cholera outbreak is the direct consequence of two years of heavy conflict," Unicef and the World Health Organization said in a joint statement in June. "Collapsing health, water, and sanitation systems have cut off 14.5 million people from regular access to clean water and sanitation, increasing the ability of the disease to spread."