Gbarnga, Liberia, Oct 21, 2014 / 11:58 am
"How is it that we have again become the marginalized of the earth?" That is what people ask Bishop Anthony Borwah of Gbarnga, in Liberia, the country most affected by the outbreak of Ebola.
Recalling that the west African country is still recovering from a pair of civil wars that lasted from 1989 until 2003, Bishop Borwah told Time magazine recently, "the poor are again asking the existential questions that predominated during the civil war: Where is God? What evil have we done again? How is it that we have again become the rejected of the earth?"
Bishop Borwah shared that "a relative of mine who survived Ebola committed suicide, because the people avoided him, and he no longer felt wanted by anyone."
The stigmatization of those who survive Ebola is marked in Liberia and its neighbors, due to a lack of education.
Survivors there "carry on their skin the stigma left by this illness," Bishop Borwah stated.
According to the World Health Organization, up to Oct. 14 there had been 4,555 deaths from the Ebola outbreak, and more than 9,200 cases.
In July, Catholic Relief Services' regional information officer for west and central Africa, Michael Stulman, told CNA that many misconceptions about Ebola are facilitating the virus' spread in the region, but that "we try to address the myths, fears and cultural challenges people are facing."
He added that some locals believe Ebola is caused by a curse, which can only be undone by a traditional healer. There is also a risk of spreading Ebola at burial ceremonies that include washing the body of the deceased.
Public education is a critical element of CRS' work combatting the Ebola outbreak. The agency has teamed up with local community leaders, Caritas, and the Ministries of Health to raise awareness about Ebola.
CRS is also utilizing local radio stations to broadcast public service announcements and daily radio discussions with health officials and community leaders. During the radio discussions, listeners are encouraged to call in with questions and concerns regarding the outbreak.
The hope is that better education will lead to better prevention practices, and halt the spread of the disease.
In September, Meredith Stakem, a Senegal-based official of CRS, stated, "there is still a huge need to educate the public in all of the affected countries about Ebola, how it spreads, and what actions people need to take to protect themselves and their families. We have seen firsthand how locally tailored information delivered face-to-face in a way that engages the audience can be effective."
The infectious disease is caused by the Ebola virus, first detected in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976. Infection is caused when someone has direct contact with the flood, vomit, feces, or bodily fluids of someone who has Ebola; it is not airborne.
People are not infectious until they develop symptoms of the disease, and remain so for up to seven weeks after recovery.
Ebola has no proven cure, though potential vaccines are being tested. A serum can made from the blood of survivors – which will have antibodies against the virus.
In addition to Liberia, the worse affected countries are its neighbors Guinea and Sierra Leone. Nearby Senegal and Nigeria were also affected, but have been recently declared free of the virus.
Outside west Africa, Ebola cases have been reported in Spain, the US, Germany, Norway, France, and the UK.
The outbreak has been traced to a child who died Dec. 6, 2013 in southern Guinea, but its spread began in earnest in March.
The Ebola epidemic has caused a collapse in the health care systems of the countries most affected: on Oct. 12, the WHO reported that Liberia has 620 existing medical beds, but the total number needed is 2,930.
In addition, the outbreak is causing people not to work; travel restrictions affecting food trade and the movement of emergency responders; and has aggravated social tensions, leading to rioting in some locales. Many hospitals, schools, and workplaces have been closed.
Catholic Relief Services is working to support Ebola prevention, preparedness, and management activities in the affected countries, training and supporting community volunteers and religious leaders, supporting radio programs and household visits, and helping to provide hygiene kits.
Bishop Borwah concluded, "we need help to feed those who are hungry and are angry, and to care for and console the survivors of Ebola."