Via The Lancet, a report whose authors include Dr. Ziad A. Memish, former Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabiah, and Lancet editor Richard Horton: Mass gatherings medicine: international cooperation and progress. Excerpt:
The GCMGM [Global Centre for Mass Gatherings Medicine] could have a major positive public health legacy through the development of an evidence base for improvements in health systems and services at mass gatherings. For example, our experiences have shown that effective planning for mass gatherings can be used to improve the public health systems of host countries.
The potential benefit of the GCMGM became evident when, in September, 2012, a serious respiratory disease caused by a novel betacoronavirus (later named Middle East respiratory syndrome or MERS-CoV) emerged in Saudi Arabia. International media attention focused on MERS-CoV after the detection of fatal cases in France, Germany, and the UK, all of which had a connection with the Arabian Peninsula.
A WHO emergency committee on MERS-CoV was formed, which included a GCMGM board member. In view of the impending Hajj in November, 2013, during which an estimated 3 million pilgrims were expected to visit Saudi Arabia, the possibility that MERS-CoV could occur in pilgrims and then spread as they returned home, causing a worldwide epidemic, was a major concern.
Extensive research done under the remit of the GCMGM MERS-CoV study group led to the rapid definition of hospital outbreaks, identification of the mode of transmission, and the development of specific recommendations for Hajj 2013. No MERS-CoV cases were detected at either Hajj 2012 or Hajj 2013, and none have been reported from the pilgrims' home countries after return.
Case-control studies to investigate various hypotheses about the source of MERS-CoV infection have not yet been done, but such studies are being planned.
As the events around the MERS-CoV outbreak show, mass gatherings will constantly face new issues8 and will continue to provide serious public health challenges—but these challenges can be met through effective collaborative research, education, training, and capacity building.