The Saudi Arabian government has banned people from Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from making this year’s pilgrimage to Mecca because of the recent cholera and Ebola epidemics that occurred in these countries.
Cheik Abdallah Mangala, the head of the DRC’s Islamic community, explained that the government “made the decision to avoid any contamination from the Ebola and cholera viruses.”
Ebola was named after a river in the DRC where the first outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever occurred. The often-fatal disease is spread through contact with contaminated blood and other body fluids. However, because much is still unknown about Ebola, prevention strategies are limited.
Cholera is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae and causes acute dehydration through diarrhea and vomiting. The disease is very contagious, since it is spread through contact with contaminated food or water, but can be treated with rehydration therapy and antibiotics.
The outbreaks of Ebola and cholera began this summer in both countries. In the DRC, there were more than 20,000 cases of cholera and 74 cases of Ebola with 36 deaths. In Uganda, 17 died from Ebola. Officials now believe that these outbreaks are under control, and there are currently no official travel sanctions on either country.
Making the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj, is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is expected that every Muslim who is able to make and afford the trip will do so at least once in their life. This year, the hajj begins on the eighth day of the month of Dhul Hijjah, which falls on Oct. 24. It is expected that over one million people will travel to Mecca for this occasion.
During the Hajj, HealthMap increases the sensitivity of its reporting in and around countries that have large populations of pilgrims. Disease alerts are reported on a map created specifically for the Hajj, so that pilgrims and health officials can better prepare for disease threats during the Hajj.