Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Saudi Arabia will require everyone arriving in Mecca this November to receive polio vaccine

From The New York Times:

Saudi Arabia has announced that everyone arriving for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca (pictured) in November will have to swallow a dose of oral polio vaccine under the eyes of health officials.

The kingdom has become more and more aggressive in its fight against polio, which has hovered on the brink of eradication for years. Until recently, the Saudi authorities asked for proof of vaccination when pilgrims applied for visas and forcibly vaccinated only those arriving from countries where polio was endemic.

In New York last week, the country’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, and Ted Turner, the cable television billionaire and chairman of the United Nations Foundation, announced that Saudi Arabia would donate $30 million toward global polio eradication. While that is only a small contribution to the $6.1 billion spent over the last 20 years, it is symbolically important.

Polio is endemic in only four countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and regions of Nigeria and India with a Muslim majority. It persists largely because of a persistent rumor that the vaccine is a Western plot to sterilize Muslim girls.

Each year, travelers from endemic countries seed outbreaks in other poor countries, where vaccination drives had been dropped when the disease was thought to have been eliminated. In some years, it has reached Saudi Arabia, where millions of pilgrims live close together in tent cities for the holy week.