Faith groups have huge role to play in Africa fight against Ebola, says WHO

(Photo: REUTERS / James Giahyue)A car drives past a public health advertisement against the Ebola virus in Monrovia October 8, 2014. The Ebola outbreak in Liberia continued to deteriorate, with a recorded death toll of 2,210 so far and 200 suspected or probable new cases in Monrovia in each of the past three weeks, and the reappearance of Ebola in Grand Cape Mount District for the first time in three weeks, the World Health Organization said.

The World Health Organization has stressed the key role the faith community plays in the fight against Ebola in Africa at a meeting in Geneva called by the World Council of Churches on the killer disease.

Dr. Pierre Formenty, an epidemiologist and coordinator of the WHO's campaign against Ebola said, "This is a situation where everyone needs to work together: politicians, media, communities, faith organizations.

"We all have to do something. If one fails, everybody will fail," said Formenty.

In this situation, he said, "Faith organizations in Africa have a huge role to play."

The WCC, which represents more than 500 million Christians worldwide, invited representatives of Christian aid organizations and United Nations agencies to learn from each other and to lift their efforts.

The WCC said in a statement it held the meeting on September 29 in Geneva, Switzerland, committing to greater role for the churches and faith-based organizations in helping to stop the epidemic.

Dr. Gisela Schneider from the German Institute for Medical Mission, who was in Liberia a few weeks ago, said, "Christian hospitals are highly vulnerable."

She noted, "this is why 'keep safe, keep working' is an important slogan we promote for the health workers serving Christian hospitals".

Schneider said that "people working on the ground need a great amount of encouragement, training, mentorship and support."

She added that while it is important to increase health facilities that reach the household level, it is "crucial to empower local communities to take care of themselves."

The Ebola crisis in West Africa is the largest of its kind since the 1976 outbreak.

More than 6,200 people have been infected with the virus in severely affected countries such as Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to WHO reports.

The WHO has warned that numbers of infected persons could top 1 million by January 2015.

Christoph Benn from the Global Fund said the "WCC, churches and ecumenical organizations need to take full responsibility in not only helping to curb the disease but in communicating the right message, in raising awareness and challenging the stigma attached to Ebola."

Benn is former advisor to the WCC for its program on health and healing.

The WCC meeting also highlighted the sanctity and dignity of the dead during burial rituals, an occasion which poses high risks of spreading the disease.

The speakers said that while it is necessary to prevent the spread of the virus, support to families and communities is also essential.

A recent UN meeting in New York has strongly urged stepped-up efforts to stop Ebola, naming it a "public health crisis" and a "threat to peace and security."

(Photo: WCC)
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