Saudi Arabia has the highest number of laboratory confirmed pandemic H1N1 cases in the Eastern Mediterranean Region – 595 – with four out of the eight deaths so far, according to an 8 August World Health Organization (WHO) report.
Kuwait comes second with 560 cases, although no deaths, and Egypt third with 314 cases and one death. Lebanon, Qatar and Iraq have each had one fatality.
While Israel’s Ministry of Health reported its fifth H1N1 death on 7 August and more than 2,000 cases of the virus, the country falls under WHO’s Europe region.
With the Muslim holy month of Ramadan set to begin in about two weeks, and the annual Hajj due in late November, Arab health ministers are not allowing the elderly, children or chronically sick to make pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia.
At a press conference on 5 August, Saudi Health Minister Dr Abdullah Al-Rabeeah said only those between the ages of 12 and 65 with proof of a flu vaccination and no chronic disease would be granted Hajj visas. Pregnant women and people with diabetes, obesity and hypertension would also be barred from Mecca, he said.
Pandemic H1N1 in the Eastern Mediterranean Region
|Islamic Republic of Iran||144||0|
|Libyan Arab Jamahiriya||9||0|
|Syrian Arab Republic||13||0|
|United Arab Emirates||79||0|
Source: WHO as of 8 August
"These conditions have been approved after consultations with top international experts in the field," Khaled Al-Mirghalani, the Health Ministry's spokesman, said at a press conference. "No one will be able to get a visa without fulfilling these new rules."
Iran Air is reported on 10 August to have suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia, following an earlier Iranian government ban on all citizens from visiting Saudi Arabia during 30 days of Ramadan, beginning around 22 August. Iran had 144 reported cases of H1N1 on 8 August, according to WHO, mostly pilgrims who had visited Saudi Arabia.
As of 31 July, 168 countries and overseas territories/communities had reported at least one laboratory confirmed case of H1N1.
By the same date, WHO recorded a global total of 162,380 cases and 1,154 deaths. WHO specialists say the actual number of infections and deaths is likely to be much higher as many countries do not have the appropriate facilities or medical skills to diagnose the virus properly.
WHO segments the world into six regions: Africa, the least affected region, had 0.14 percent of the global total of H1N1 cases; the Eastern Mediterranean Region 0.8 percent; Southeast Asia 6.1 percent; Europe 16.1 percent; the Western Pacific 16.4 percent and the Americas 60 percent.