Updates on 2024 Hajj Airlift and the National Medical Team

By 15th of May 2024, the outcome of preparations for the year’s Hajj season would manifest with the planned take-off of 428 passengers on FlyNas airline to Saudi Arabia.

The inaugural flight is scheduled to take-off with Kebbi state pilgrims from the Sir Ahmadu Bello International Airport (SABIA) in Birnin Kebbi, the state capital.

To witness the occasion are diplomats, members of the Hajj industry with the Vice President, His Excellency Sen. Kashim Shettima as Special Guest of Honour. An advance team of officials comprising medical personnel from the National Medical Team (NMT), media staff, accommodation officials, few feeding committee members, select members of the Central Security Committee members as well as the National Reception Team departed Nigeria on Sunday May 12 to receive the pilgrims.

The onward airlift to Saudi Arabia will last until 10th day of June or hopefully earlier. Pilgrims will travel in groups of 45 according to Saudi Arabia’s guidelines; missing out from the group could come with consequences as stated by the host country.

Two other flights are scheduled to take-off on same day of the inaugural flight with pilgrims of Nasarawa and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) from the Abuja International Airport. Subsequently, two flights would take-off each day in the days following the inaugural flight to gradually increase to five flights daily. 15 Airports have been designated for the 2024 Hajj exercise.

About 65,047 pilgrims from both public and private sectors are expected to participate in the 2024 Hajj.

While all Hajj operational committees are critical to the success of every Hajj, the NMT is one of the most sensitive after the Aviation Sector. Composition of the team attracts interest of the pilgrims as well as prospective personnel. Hence, on the 12th of February 2024, The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) launched the National Medical Team (NMT) portal inviting interested candidates willing to volunteer their medical services for the 2024 Hajj pilgrims to register on the portal within two weeks.

By the end of the registration deadline, 19,832 had applied. Out of this total, only 7,532 scaled the first screening test of submitting duly completed e-forms.

It would be recalled that at the time of inviting interested candidates, the following criteria were clearly spelt out as yardsticks for qualification into the medical team.

That:

i. Doctors and Pharmacists should be between the ages of 28 and 60 while nurses and Environmental / Community Health Workers should be between 22 to 60

ii. Applicants must not have participated in the last three NMT operations vis-à-vis, 2019, 2022 and 2023. The only exceptions to this category are principal officers selected to lead the team from the onset as well as few regular members from the past teams who were recognized for excellence. Their selection is automatic.

iii. Must be in active service at the time of application.

iv. Must be ready to work for 28 days and stay in KSA for 45 days.
The Medical Team, led by Dr Abubakar Adamu Ismaila from the Federal Min of Health and Social Welfare (FMH&SW) as Head of Medical Mission, along side selected staff of NAHCON in the NMT Committee conducted the assessment of applications. Other Principal Officers entrusted with the task are Pharmacist Ibrahim Babashehu (Registrar, Pharmacists Council of Nigeria) as Head of Pharmacists; Dr Saidu Ahmed Dumbulwa, Institutional Representative of FMOH & SW on NAHCON’s 5th Board, Matron Zainab Garba Mamu (Retired Director FMOH& SW) holds the position of Head of Nurses and Dr Zaiyad Garba Habib (University of Abuja Teaching Hospital) is Head of Doctors.

At the end of the exercise, out of the 7532 correctly submitted applications, 1295 applicants were dropped for selecting payment option for their medical services instead of volunteerism as requested, while another five were similarly dropped for failure to indicate their choice of whether volunteerism or for a fee.

Another 1,307 applicants were disqualified after indicating that they had participated in the medical team within the last three Hajj seasons.

On the other hand, NAHCON’s data revealed another 175 applicants who either concealed the fact of their participation in the previous years or gave false information on that claim. A breakdown showed 37 of them participated in the 2019 NMT, 60 participated in the 2022 medical team and 78 were members from 2023 National Medical Team. They were eliminated. Another 135 were also eliminated based on age while 43 were rejected for submitting multiple applications. In total, only 4861 eventually scaled the second round of screening.

Interestingly, out of these 4861 successful candidates, only 140 would be shortlisted according to official medical quota allocated to the country by Saudi Arabia. In the past, it used to be one medical personnel to 1000 pilgrims. Nevertheless, because the Commission understands the peculiarity of Nigerian pilgrims for health care demand, NAHCON supports additional medical personnel among its overall quota to supplement Saudi’s formal allocation.

Despite this gesture, overwhelming medical attention persists among Nigerian pilgrims while in the Kingdom.

The reader is invited to kindly take note that the overall NMT is constituted of 60% workforce selected and presented by the various states’ pilgrims’ welfare boards from the state level.

NAHCON contributes only 40% of the medical staff. Though of recent, the reverse is almost the case due to financial weaknesses of some state governments that rendered them incapable of sponsoring medical staff in the NMT. The Commission would not relent in augmenting critical services for the welfare of Nigerian pilgrims thus bears the brunt.

To meet its own 40% medical staff support, NAHCON conducts random balloting to select members of the NMT.

Thus, by the end of the balloting and collation, out of the 140 that were successfully shortlisted, three more were dropped for failing pregnancy tests, they have since been replaced. Hence, notification has been sent to successful candidates to serve as members of the 2024 Hajj National Medical Team.

The team will be working under three major clinics in Makkah and one in Madinah which is located on Quran street. In Makkah, the Main Office is in Masfala Kudei where most pilgrims are accommodated. The two other major clinics are in Al-Tayseer and Masfala Shari Hijr. Medical personnel are not posted to individual state accommodations because the Saudi authority does not recognise state boards running individual clinics.

NAHCON thus establishes few outpost stations to decongest the three main clinics. Erecting the outpost stations depends on certain factors that can only be determined while in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

About 50% of the medical personnel will be provided with portable first aid kits to move around with for timely medical intervention.

During the five days of Hajj rites, NAHCON would run one clinic in each of the 15 pilgrims’ field offices in Muna. In addition, the Commission will run mobile clinics in Masha’ir while ambulances belonging to state welfare boards shall be deployed to the sites as back-up.

The Commission’s deep desire to guarantee welfare of pilgrims gave impetus to the exhaustive efforts put in place for success of the Hajj season.

Usara is Assistant Director, Public Affairs and writes from NAHCON