[Episcopal Relief & Development press release] 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.