The United Methodist Church is launching an emergency response plan to protect healthcare workers and stop the spread of the deadly Ebola outbreak spreading in West Africa.
(Locator: Bo, Sierra Leone)
Rashid Ansumana, Research Scientist, UMC Mercy Hospital: "Being on the frontline means we are also at risk, very serious risk and anything could happen to any of us if we don't take our time and do the right things."
Fear has become reality in Bo, Sierra Leone. Just days ago, two patients were diagnosed with Ebola virus at United Methodist Manjama Clinic, an indication that the outbreak of the deadly disease is far from contained and could get much worse.
Beatrice Gbanga, Medical Coordinator, Sierra Leone Annual Conference: "Knowing that you are so exposed and you are so vulnerable and that you have more at risk than even the patient you have to deal with, that's cause for fear."
Taiwo Sesay, Nurse: "We are nurses and we're always ready to heal the sick or treat sick people."
Health care workers are at great risk of contracting the disease that has a fatality rate up to 90 percent. It's spread by human-to-human contact and by exposure to animals carrying the virus.
Amara Jambai, Director of Disease Prevention & Control, Sierra Leone: "There is no vaccine for the disease. There's no drug. It is basically based on supportive care and maybe the earlier we introduce supportive care the better chance of survival. But really, I mean, the disease is deadly and health workers are scared."
United Methodist leaders are scared for the larger population, too. Bishop John Yambasu moved quickly, using the power of the pulpit to get the word out about a disease that is new to the region.
With four hospitals and nine clinics in the infected countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, the United Methodist Committee on Relief – UMCOR- is working with West African church leaders, its regional health boards, health facilities, and missionaries to launch an Ebola emergency response plan. But, without an understanding of this disease, the population has been slow to accept its existence.
Amara Jambai: "Initially, when the Ebola outbreak came out in Guinea, the information that our people were getting is like, 'Hey, the people the minute they take your blood, that's the time you get the disease and they only bring you back in bags...Yes, if you take their blood that is the time that Ebola is introduced.'"
If exposed individuals believe that giving blood samples actually introduces the disease into their system then, they tend to stay away from conventional healthcare and turn to traditional healers. In fact, it was a traditional healer who first contracted the disease in Sierra Leone.
Amara Jambai: "It started with this lady, she was an herbalist in that zone between Liberia and Sierra Leone, and the herbalist was treating people from Guinea with Ebola. She got sick and died."
Fourteen women prepared the body for burial; 11 contracted Ebola.
Amara Jambai: "The disease is most often transferred during burial services, when you handle dead bodies. Ninety percent of the time that is the time you have infection. The other 10% of the cause is care, whether it is care at home or a caregiver at the hospital."
Beatrice Gbanga: "Most of the people who died due to Ebola died because of lack of information, lack of education. Most of them have not heard of Ebola."
Rashid Ansumana, Research Scientist: "I'm concerned because I recognize that the education level of our people is low and I also recognize they also do not have this message of Ebola, they will not tend to accept its existence and as a result they are making terrible mistakes."
...like leaving hospitals and returning to their villages when they are diagnosed. This clearly concerns hospital staff.
The reach and influence of The United Methodist Church throughout West Africa is an essential tool in fighting the disease...and nurses treating Ebola patients say they need all the help they can get.
Veronica Koroma, Nurse, Kenema Government Hospital: "So, now as we work we talk Ebola. As we go to our homes, we talk Ebola. As we are going out into the market, we talk Ebola. Because some, even uneducated people, don't really want to face the fact. But we are trying, because knowledge is power."
For more information, or to make a donation, contact UMCOR.org.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief, the denomination's humanitarian relief agency, asks that financial donations be sent to UMCOR International Disaster Response, Advance No.982450 to respond to this and other emergencies. Learn more and donate.
This story was first posted on July 3, 2014. Sadly, since the video was produced two of the nurses profiled contracted Ebola. Mbalu Fonniel,the head nurse at Kenema Hospital,died. Nurse Veronica Koroma contracted the virus and survived.