Well, I’ve almost made it through my unit of CPE – one week left! While I work and drive back and forth to class and to the hospital, I listen to my friends on Michigan Radio. You all have heard the news these last few weeks, too. It’s tough to handle the questions that arise from the pain and suffering we see all around us. This week, I have been paying special attention to the Ebola situation in Africa – and now in our own country as we’ve brought home two of our citizens who were giving of themselves to those suffering far away. Oh, what conflicted feelings I have about this move – and I’ve heard similar comments from so many friends! While we don’t have any resolution specifically addressing Ebola, we are called to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” – even those with ridiculously contagious viruses. Today’s issue of Episcopal News Service reported:
Episcopal Relief & Development is working with the Anglican Diocese of Bo in Sierra Leone and the Episcopal Church of Liberia in response to the Ebola epidemic that has killed hundreds of people since the current outbreak began in March 2014. Through its local partners, the organization is supporting awareness-raising efforts and providing personal protection equipment and disinfectants to under-resourced hospitals and clinics in the affected areas.
“The disease caused by the Ebola virus is extremely serious and contagious,” said Abiy Seifu, Senior Program Officer for Episcopal Relief & Development. “I am grateful that our partners in Sierra Leone and Liberia have acted quickly and made responding to this crisis a top priority.”
The current Ebola outbreak began in Guinea around the capital, Conakry, and four southeastern provinces bordering Sierra Leone and Liberia. By mid-April, neighboring countries were reporting suspected cases, with confirmed cases in late May and increased spread through June and July.
Ebola is a virus that causes hemorrhagic fever, which is often fatal. In the current crisis, as of August 1, 887 out of 1603 suspected cases (56%) have resulted in death. There is no vaccine or established cure.
Containing the virus has been a challenge due to the ease with which Ebola spreads (through contact with bodily fluids of infected individuals or eating meat from infected animals) and the long latent period of up to three weeks between infection and the appearance of symptoms.
Additionally, the high death rate and lack of successful treatment has led to popular reluctance to seek professional diagnosis or hospital care. For this reason, or due to misconceptions about the cause of the disease, many families are choosing to treat the illness at home. This causes further spread and makes accurate assessment of the numbers and locations of cases and deaths difficult.
In response, The Episcopal Diocese of Bo in Sierra Leone is building on its existing health programs to reach key community leaders such as priests, imams, traditional healers and chiefs with training on how to promote accurate information and encourage correct prevention and treatment practices.
“Faith leaders are respected and listened to by their communities and can therefore play an important role,” Seifu said. “They can help head or promote education and awareness-raising campaigns to promote change in high-risk behaviors.”
The diocese is also mobilizing its network of local health volunteers to reach children and youth in schools, and to directly reach 20,000 individuals through community meetings and home visits. Health volunteers also assist international health organizations and Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation in watching for and referring suspected cases.
In Liberia, Episcopal Relief & Development is assisting the local Church in providing necessary medical and sanitation supplies to hospitals and clinics. These supplies include bleach for sanitizing health facilities, and disposable gloves and hand sanitizer to help protect health workers who may come into contact with infected patients.
“Health workers, volunteers and others who are at the forefront in combating this deadly disease are increasingly contracting the Ebola virus themselves,” said Seifu.
“Prayers and support are needed as these people do their utmost to tend to their patients in these extremely challenging circumstances.”
To enable Episcopal Relief & Development to respond to crises like the current Ebola crisis in West Africa, please donate to the Disaster Response Fund.
These are beloved children of our God who are dying, our brothers and sisters. Please consider how you might help in this work.
Let us pray:
Holy and Gracious God, we lift up to you the thousands who suffer from Ebola and other similar diseases, especially those in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Though we may never see their faces, you know each one by name. Though to us, they live in a distant land, to you they reside in your heart. On their behalf we pray for you to be involved. We ask for you to arise and move in visible ways to bring your mercy to the hurting masses. We also lift a special petition for those who – like Dr. Kent Brantley and Nancy Writebol – have used their gifts and abilities to step into the gap and bring relief. We ask for your protection upon all professionals and volunteers who confront this outbreak. Bless their efforts, guide their thinking and protect their bodies. Amen.
(adapted from a prayer offered by Dr Gary Green at a prayer vigil held at Abilene Southern Hills Church of Christ)
We will continue to follow this crisis in the weeks ahead.
Thank you for bearing with me while I focused my attention this summer on CPE! I will be back in full strength soon!
~ Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council