Photo Credit: United Nations
[ACNS, by Rachel Farmer] Anglican churches in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are playing a vital role, alongside healthcare agencies, in the fight against the world’s second largest outbreak of Ebola in the north east of the country.
The Archbishop of Congo, Masimango Katanda, said the Church was attempting to raise awareness of the reality of the virus and tackling misinformation. He said:“The main role of the Church at this time is to raise awareness… Ebola concerns everyone. We will encourage all church members to be informed and follow the advice so that they can take care of themselves. We will work with pastors, youth, school heads, Mothers’ Union and others – so that all can be involved together to eradicate this disease.” He also said churches in the affected areas have set up different points for hand-washing and temperature checks, and are also working alongside the humanitarian agencies involved in the crisis.
The outbreak in central Africa, which has been running for almost a year, has become the second most deadly killing more than 1,600 people in the north-east of the country.
Last week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) called the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern,” after the first confirmed case in Goma, a DRC city of nearly two million people on the country’s eastern border with Rwanda. This case has increased the risk of the virus spreading internationally.
The crisis in the DRC has been made more difficult due to an ongoing conflict in the region.
Archbishop Katanda said the outbreak was in an area where many different armed groups of rebels from various countries were active which had made the response more complex, as local people saw aid organisations helping Ebola victims, but not the victims of the ongoing conflict.
He has called for a multi-targeted approach to help the region: tackling the Ebola virus and assisting the victims of the violence in the area. He also emphasised the importance of education in schools and churches.
Rachel Carnegie, executive director of the Anglican Alliance, which helps to co-ordinate the activities of Anglican relief and development agencies, said they had been working with colleagues in the DRC to provide support, including sharing what had been learned from the outbreak five years ago in West Africa.
She said: “It’s a very serious situation which we are all concerned about. But the bishops there have shown exemplary leadership, also the responses we had from churches in West Africa, after the outbreak there, have helped inform Anglican churches in the DRC. One of the key lessons learned from the faith response in West Africa was to work with health services to promote prevention strategies including safe and dignified burials.”
Rachel said Anglicans had been working together with ecumenical colleagues to develop new theological and scientific resources for churches to provide factual information and practical advice about what they can do. She said: “We’re working with the bishops to plan how the clergy can test them out and hope that these resources will be rolled out in the near future for use by clergy and other leaders.”
A 2015 report by four faith-based agencies on the role of faith leaders in the Ebola response in West Africa called Keeping the Faith, showed the impact that church engagement had in helping tackle the virus.
Dr Janice Proud, Anglican Alliance Relief and Programme Manager said the report documented the trajectory of the virus, which showed a sharp decline in its spread coincided with the point in time when faith leaders became centrally engaged in the response.
She said: “Once faith leaders were involved, the report found that they were transformational due to their trusted, respected long-term presence in communities and their ability to contextualise the response to take into account local beliefs and traditions.”
Rachel Carnegie said the Anglican Alliance is hoping that this vital role will be supported as part of the wider response to the outbreak in the DRC.