[ACNS] Three West African bishops have briefed members of the Church of England’s General Synod this week on the Ebola crisis and the role played by the church in tackling it. The Bishops of Bo, Freetown, and Guinea were joined by representatives from the Anglican mission agency United Society, which organised the fringe meeting, and the Anglican Alliance.
The Anglican churches in West Africa are currently working with the United Society to devise a strategy for helping communities rebuild their lives in the aftermath of Ebola, which was first reported in March 2014.
Over the next 21 months, the virus claimed the lives of 11,315 people, primarily in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. However, in January this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the last of the affected countries, Liberia, to be Ebola-free.
The three bishops – Emmanuel Tucker and Thomas Wilson from Sierra Leone, and Jacques Boston, of Guinea and Guinea Bissau – discussed their plans to reach out to communities where lives and livelihoods were lost and where the people remain anxious that another virus could strike – either a repeat of Ebola or an outbreak of the Zika virus.
“Looking back at a traumatic time, the church leaders described how the outbreak quickly overwhelmed overstretched health services, with medical personnel among the climbing death toll,” the United Society’s Mike Brookes said. “Fear gripped communities, exacerbated by the frightening appearance of the protective uniforms worn by health workers and the arrival of the army to locate people infected by Ebola.
“To halt the spread of the virus people urgently needed to understand what they could do protect their families. So the church stepped in, working with a number of agencies to raise awareness regarding how to combat the virus – such as increasing hand-washing, not shaking hands during church services, and not touching the dead.
“Not all church leaders survived the outbreak, but they showed immense courage in travelling to the most remote communities to ensure that fear could be replaced by hope. Following the church’s intervention, the rate of Ebola infection dropped dramatically.”
The meeting heard how the church is grappling today with specific challenges that could be described as side-effects of the Ebola crisis. One of these is the huge increase in pregnant teenagers, which has been blamed as an effect of schools being closed. These girls now face the double challenge of being mothers while also wanting to pursue their education.
“Even though the virus is controlled, it’s not going anywhere, United Society’s international programme manager Davidson Solanki said. “Churches are encouraging people not to be complacent.
“Ebola is not just a health issue; it is a phenomenon that hit fragile states in West Africa and had a deep impact at every level of society, including infrastructure and the economy. The church itself was hit badly and experienced pain. But it rose to the challenge and provided hope and healing to affected communities.
“It is very encouraging that Anglican Churches continue to work tirelessly to rebuild lives post-Ebola, and [the United Society] has committed to journey with them as they implement their plans.”
The United Society is currently looking at how it can provide financial support for a provincial-wide strategy for post-Ebola work, including diocesan programmes in health, hygiene and education.
Before the General Synod fringe meeting, the three bishops held a meeting with staff at the Anglican Alliance to discuss the crisis.
- Click here to watch the General Synod fringe meeting.