Letter: Ebola and Hajj

Last year more than two million Muslims from all over the world performed hajj, or travel to Mecca, to participate in the Muslim rituals there. People are in close contact, often shoulder to shoulder and even stepping on each other, for several days as they go through several rituals of hajj. When the hajj is over, these people return to their homes in dozens of countries across the globe.

This year 70,000 Nigerians will travel to Mecca, despite that country having more than a dozen confirmed cases of Ebola Zaire, with over 300 suspected of exposure to the deadly virus.

Saudi Arabia insists they have taken the necessary precautions to prevent any problems with Ebola. Yeah, right. I lived in Saudi Arabia for two years, and while their medical care is far better than West Africa, that’s only because they hire European and American doctors and nurses to staff their hospitals and clinics. Left to themselves, the Saudis are not much better than West African society, when it comes to healthy habits. (Just go out into the desert and attend a “goat grab”– a feast with goat and huge mounds of rice as the main course; it’s great food but lousy hygiene.) In the downtown markets, they’ll hang a steel or aluminum cup on a chain at the water fountain, and almost everyone who drinks at the fountain uses the cup. No one washes or sanitizes it.

So, think about 70,000 people from a country with an emerging Ebola crisis traveling to a place where millions of people are concentrated into a few square miles, for days. If even a handful of those 70,000 Nigerians have been exposed to Ebola, they’ll be eating, sleeping, and walking around the Kaaba stone with all these people, and when it’s all over, potentially hundreds or even thousands of people exposed to the Ebola virus then board planes and travel back to their homes in countries all over the world, many if not most before any Ebola symptoms begin to show.

The possibilities make Hollywood movies, like Outbreak and Contagion, look miniscule by comparison. This graphic shows the hajj ritual, which includes a lot of “rubbing elbows” with the other hajjis.

Now, having said all that, having lived and traveled in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, I believe that our American health care system is still one of the best in the world (even after Obamacare), and we’d have the best chance of any nation in containing Ebola once it reaches our shores. Still, the entirely possible scenario I just outlined could overwhelm even a robust healthcare system like ours.

There’s lots of information on the Internet about Ebola, how to prevent transmission, sanitization, and so forth; just use any search engine. The same information can be used to prepare for virtually any pandemic; Ebola has the headlines now but so does a mystery respiratory virus spreading across the U.S. from which I just recently recovered. The CDC’s website has lots of excellent information about pandemic preparedness; for very deadly things, like Ebola, just assume they’re low-balling the numbers, when it comes to infectiousness and transmissibility. (We can’t go telling the real truth and scaring the public now, can we?)

It could be that this all blows over (I almost said “dies out”, but that would be grossly inappropriate) in a few or several months and never reaches the U.S. I hope and pray that’s true. However, if it does reach the U.S., be informed and prepared; it’s not hard and not that expensive. If you do, you’ll be ahead of 99.9% of the rest of the country who’ve been too busy watching the latest reality show or glued to their smart phones.

Last and most importantly, if you don’t know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, there’s not a better time than now to get spiritually ready, while you consider what you’ll do to prepare for a pandemic, be it Ebola or influenza or any number of bugs that will make you sick, or dead. Don’t wait. Do it now. God doesn’t promise us another breath.

Of course death as a Christian isn’t a bad thing, but I’d much rather make the journey from something other than Ebola. Come to think of it, dying in my sleep and waking up in heaven sounds far better!

Maranatha… – A Prepared Dad near Denver