Health information, attitudes and actions at religious venues: Evidence from hajj pilgrims

Int J Disaster Risk Reduct. 2020 Dec;51:101886. doi: 10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.101886. Epub 2020 Sep 24.

Abstract

Mass gatherings for sporting events, music shows, and religious needs continue to grow in our urban areas, requiring local authorities to develop safety procedures to mitigate the challenges of keeping the attendees safe. These challenges are even more pronounced at pilgrimage venues where social distancing and contact avoidance are difficult as pilgrims are required to perform various rituals in close proximity with others, in a sequential manner, either daily or weekly, as per their religious tenets. Over two million pilgrims attend the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia annually. Keeping the local and visiting pilgrims safe from crowd crush, sunstroke, skin infections, recurrence of prior medical issues, and contagious diseases requires the Saudi government to allocate huge investments for health communication and prevention programs every year. However, there is no evidence to date that has empirically tested whether Hajj pilgrims' are able to receive such information and are subsequently adopting various health promoting behaviors. This study aims to do that by framing it within the Health Belief Model. Data collected and analyzed from 245 pilgrims in Makkah between September 9th-19th, 2017 suggests that roughly 48% of the pilgrims adopted all five protective measures. However, language barriers, limited health care facilities, and difficulties in purchasing prescription mediciens were cited as impediments to adopting healthy measures. The study concludes with recommendations for the KSA government agencies, Hajj authorities, Mission authorities and pilgrims, during various phases of travel-- i.e. pre-travel, during the pilgrimage and post-travel, in light of new emerging health threats.

Keywords: Crowd management; Hajj pilgrimage; Health belief model; Health communication; Health hazard management; Risk communication; Saudi Arabia.