Ebola cases are dropping, but it's 'still too early to rejoice'

Ebola cases are dropping, but it's 'still too early to rejoice'

Pastoral care given to children of Ebola victims in Sierra Leone. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need.
Pastoral care given to children of Ebola victims in Sierra Leone. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need.

.- As the number of Ebola cases continue to fall in West Africa, survivors of the nightmarish outbreak are expressing cautious optimism, saying they still need much support.

“It's still too early to rejoice, even if the number of newly infected has fallen considerably,” Fr. Peter Konteh, Caritas director for the Archdiocese of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, told Aid to the Church in Need earlier this month.

Sierra Leone has been one of the nations worst-hit by the virus, with 3,691 reported deaths and 11,751 cases as of March 15, according the World Health Organization.

As a country that had only eight ambulances before the outbreak, Fr. Konteh said medical treatment has improved significantly thanks to international aid.

However, the country still needs support and he worries that they will “be forgotten again when the cameras are finally switched off.”

When the outbreak first hit, Fr. Konteh said the archdiocese worked diligently to spread information about the infection to the mostly illiterate population.  

“Every day there were broadcasts over the radio. We also used megaphones to inform the people, and we went onto the market places and into the villages. It wasn't easy to convince the people.”

He attributed much of the success in containing the outbreak to collaboration among Muslims, Christians and those of other religious traditions. The country has long enjoyed good relations between religions, he said, which was exemplified in their response to the outbreak.

“This unity is one of our country's strengths,” he said.

The Archdiocese of Freetown also relied on the help of lay pastoral workers who helped plan funeral services and comfort grieving survivors.

“There are large number of traumatized individuals who seek help and want to talk to a pastoral worker about their depression. Pastoral workers get through to and accompany people in their difficulties and sufferings,” he said.

Fr. Konteh gave personal examples of the emotional scars that he carries from the outbreak.

He recalled discovering a toddler living in the midst of four bodies. By the time doctors came to rescue him, the child had already died. “This still haunts me today because I sense I should have intervened earlier.”

In another example, he said that one of his colleagues lost all 27 members of her family to Ebola. “We tried to comfort her in her pain and told her that we were now her family,” he said.

Fr. Konteh has been asked to report to the U.S. senate about his experience and will address the British parliament about the role of pastoral workers in the fight against Ebola.

Catholic clinics played an important role in helping stem the spread of the virus since they were some of the best-equipped in the region. The Church response included the delivery of 2,600 radio ads and 1 million mobile phone texts to educate to prevention; health kits given to some 53,000 families; and the feeding of nearly 3,000 quarantined people.

The current outbreak has been linked back to a child in Guinea who died of the infection in December 2013, but its spread in earnest began last March.
 
It has since claimed the lives of 10,194 people, and infected 24,701.

Tags: Caritas, Sierra Leone, Archdiocese of Freetown