KINSHASA - Ebola and Cholera epidemics have shattered the dreams of thousands of pilgrims from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda after Saudi authorities banned Muslims from both African countries from marking the life-time journey to the holy city of Makkah.
"The Muslims living in DR Congo and even those in Uganda won't participate in the pilgrimage to Mecca this year," the head of DR Congo's Islamic community, Cheik Abdallah Mangala, told Agence France Presse (AFP).
He said he thought the Saudi government had "made the decision to avoid any contamination from the Ebola and cholera viruses," which have taken a heavy toll on the region in recent months.
Pilgrims have already begun to arrive in Saudi Arabia
for the pilgrimage, the world's largest annual gathering.
Muslims from around the world pour into Makkah every year to perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.
Hajj consists of several rituals, which are meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can financially afford the trip must perform hajj at least once in a lifetime.
Hajj starts on the eighth day of the lunar month of Dhul Hijjah, which falls this year on October 24.
Most pilgrims come earlier to visit the holy mosques in Makkah and nearby Madinah, where Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) was buried over 1,400 years ago.
DR Congo has been battling an outbreak of cholera, a contagious intestinal infection, for over a year, and of Ebola, one of the world's most virulent diseases, since mid-August.
According to the World Health Organization, which has not imposed any travel restrictions on the country, more than 20,000 people in DR Congo were infected with cholera in 2012, with a mortality rate of two percent.
Leodegar Bazira, the WHO official in DR Congo, said the organization had recorded 74 Ebola cases since August, 36 of them deadly, putting the mortality rate at 50 percent.
But he added that the disease was now under control and confined to the northeastern town of Isiro.
In Uganda, Ebola has killed 17 people since July, but officials announced earlier this month that the disease had been brought under control and urged all countries to lift travel restrictions on Uganda.
To date, there is no treatment nor vaccine for Ebola, a rare haemorrhagic disease that kills between 25 percent and 90 percent of patients, depending on the strain of the virus. It is named after a small river in DR Congo.
Cholera, which is caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water, can strike swiftly, causing intense diarrhoea, vomiting and nausea that lead to severe dehydration.