As the spread of the ebola virus reaches crisis proportions is west Africa, the Catholic Church is doing all that it can to check its spread, including the hard-hit country of Sierra Leone.
Agenzia Fides is reporting on efforts being made in Catholic churches, hospitals and universities in the country of Sierra Leone where nearly 400 people have died after being infected with the ebola virus, a hemorrhagic fever that attacks the immune system and internal organs. Eventually, it causes levels of blood-clotting cells to drop, causing severe, uncontrollable bleeding. The virus is spread via contact with the body fluids of a person who is exhibiting symptoms and has already claimed the lives of at least 1,900 people in West Africa.
Sierra Leone, which has a population of six million, has been able to confirm 1,077 cases of the disease of which 387 have already died. The population is on high alert, especially since a recent visit by Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who said he saw strong signs that the transmission of the disease will spread throughout Sierra Leone as it has in neighboring countries such as Liberia.
Local Catholics have sprung into action, using every asset available to fight the spread of the disease.
“We use our pulpits to explain to people how to avoid becoming infected with the disease," said Father Joe Turay, Vice rector of the Catholic University of Makeni.
"A special task force, headed by the diocesan Caritas office, has been formed to coordinate response to the crisis. Pamphlets and other materials have been given to parishes for distribution to catechists and pastoral workers as part of a wider program of awareness-building and to spread information about the Ebola virus."
In agreement with the Interreligious Council of Pastors and Imams in Sierra Leone, messages and letters have been circulated among people of other faiths, warning them of the seriousness of the situation.
“Our Catholic University is part of the diocesan task force which works to offer support to families and monitor homes where persons live in quarantine as well as identifying more ways to face the crisis," Father Turay continued.
"Our hospitals and health care centers provide the necessary services, although many patients stay away for fear of being branded. Not receiving funds from the government these services will have to make cuts and find alternative funds. The task force team supplies food, chlorine and protective gloves”.
Catholic radio is also participating in the effort to educate the public. For instance, Radio Maria Sierra Leone is broadcasting talks on the issue by doctors, experts, town and village representatives, members of parliament.
“Support program are taking shape – programs to support people in quarantine confined in their homes and accompany them in these difficult times," Father said.
“The challenges are many and we are scarcely equipped to face them, but we will not give up. At this difficult time we gather with the people, we pray together that God may give us the necessary wisdom and courage to tackle the crisis.”
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