Churches continue in fight against Ebola

19 November 2014

Ebola is still raging across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  According to latest reports there are 13,042 confirmed, probable and suspected cases.  There have been 4,818 deaths so far (6 November 2014), mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  Recent reports suggest that cases are declining in Liberia, but still on the rise in the other affected countries.

Local churches have used all their resources in responding to this crisis, and call for support through their partners: 

Episcopal Relief & Development      

Us (formerly USPG) 

Anglican Board of Mission

Primates World Relief and Development Fund

Christian Aid

Prayer resources are also available through Christian Aid and Us.  

On a recent visit to Ghana the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and his wife Caroline met with the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Repsonse and the Ministry of Health to discuss the key needs in the region.  Caroline Welby has asked the Anglican Communion to join them in prayer and action on these key needs:

  • For countries to send teams to staff the treatment centers that are being built
  • For traditional leaders (chiefs) as well as religious leaders to speak out with clear messages about Ebola.
  • For a simple liturgy to help the bereaved as traditional grieving practices cannot be used at the moment.
  • For Ghana and the current outbreak of cholera in Accra.

Dioceses in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are working closely with government agencies to support the response to the Ebola crisis. The central need is to strengthen and support health systems to focus on containing any outbreaks, while also working with the  wider community on prevention awareness. Anglicans are responding in many ways with their own resources and with support from Anglican/Episcopal agencies such as Us, Episcopal Relief & Development and Trinity Wall Street.

In the East End of Freetown, Bishop Thomas Wilson has provided land for the construction of a 21 bed Ebola isolation unit for Ola During Children’s hospital, responding to a request from hospital management and its partner NGO.  Freetown is one the cities worst affected by the Ebola outbreak, according to the World Health Organisation, and the isolation unit will allow children and parents there to be screened for Ebola and thus allow the hospital to continue its normal life saving activities. 

Nagulan Nesiah, of Episcopal Relief & Development, recently shared about a valuable feeding programme that the Diocese of Liberia facilitated with technical advice from WHO at a newly opened Ebola Treatment Unit called Island Clinic in Monrovia, which was struggling to feed the patients.   The provision of a hot-nutritional meal for four weeks led to the full recovery of at least 150 patients. 

Rt Revd Jacques Boston, Bishop of Guinea, wrote to Us recently and said, “Let me start by thanking all those who are supporting the Anglican Diocese of Guinea during this difficult time.  The diocese is working nationally alongside other institutions to sensitise people to the situation, to distribute protection kits, and to equip our church clinics with materials to meet the need of the population. This is possible thanks to the support of Us and other agencies.”

One of the key messages is that anyone who has come into contact with someone sick with Ebola should be quarantined for 21 days. In Liberia, the Very Rev. Herman Browne, the Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Monrovia, lived this reality.  He went into voluntary quarantine with his family when they learned that his wife had visited and comforted a friend who was sick with Ebola. 

Very Rev. Browne told the public about their situation to reinforce the messaging that is being given out. One of the reasons Ebola continues to spread is that people who know they’ve been exposed to the virus often keep it a secret until they’re desperately ill and highly contagious. They fear the embarrassment, the stigma and the prospect of losing their income. 

In this way the church is able to show communities how to work together to prevent Ebola.  As well as providing hand washing facilities, churches are making changes during their services: the embrace or hand shake when sharing the peace has changed to a bow; communion is given by intinction (dipping the wafer in the cup) rather using a shared cup.

Getting the messaging out as widely as possible is key to controlling the epidemic and seeing it come to an end in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Church leaders can have a real impact, as churches are one of the few places that people are still allowed to congregate. Church leaders, like other religious leader and traditional chiefs, are also trusted, which enables them to share correct messaging to communities at the grassroots. Simple messaging and communication is one of the key activities being planned and implemented by dioceses across these countries, with the support and funding from Episcopal Relief & Development, Us and Trinity Wall Street.  The messaging is taken out to communities along with hand washing facilities and food packages for the quarantined and vulnerable. 

Other activities include using radio broadcast for messaging, providing accommodation for orphans and widows during their quarantine period using abandoned schools, and working with the UN and international NGOs to distribute hygiene kits, mother and child kits and other materials.

The epidemic is critically serious.  Despite the current international response the number of people infected is expected to continue to increase. Other countries are preparing in case Ebola spreads further afield.  Many of the most vulnerable, like those currently affected, have under-resourced health systems that will struggle to cope. Countries need to plan and prepare, with early detection and response systems in place.  That way if they do come into contact with an Ebola patient they can contain the disease, identifying all the patient’s contacts to contain the spread, and treating the person in an isolation unit with good infection control.

The Anglican Alliance is working to learn from the response of the Church in West Africa and share this learning across the Anglican Communion so that other countries can prepare in case Ebola comes to their country.  Anglican leaders recently gathered in the Caribbean, for an Anglican Alliance consultation of churches, requested this to help them prepare and respond effectively, should Ebola come to their shores.

Links and communication with other organisations are also being shared by the Anglican Alliance to support the local church’s response.  For example, talks with World Vision are taking place to consider how Anglicans can be a part of the training for their new Channels of Hope module on Ebola. This builds on World Vision’s experience of working with communities in these countries and with the Channels of Hope methodology on other health issues, including HIV.

 In the photo: Local church member distributing chlorine to families (photo credit: Us – formerly USPG)