As the fight against Ebola virus disease (EVD) in West Africa continues, the Anglican church has been heavily involved in providing both spiritual solace and material aid.
In an interview with the Anglican Journal, the Rev. Canon Llewellyn B. Rogers-Wright, of the Anglican diocese of Freetown in Sierra Leone, said that the diocese “has been using a three-prong approach in its response…namely: Prayer, Prevention and Care.”
This response has included joining other religious leaders in organizing prayer meetings, using the pulpit as a way of informing and educating the public about EVD, and distributing hygienic supplies such as buckets, bowls and soap to nearby parishes to encourage the washing of hands.
For many, the virus has hit very close to home. One of the senior priests in the diocese, the Rev. Canon Jenner C.B. Buck, lost his wife to the disease. She was a medical doctor who, like many others working in health care, succumbed to the very disease she was working to cure. As of Oct. 22, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed 244 health-care workers as having died of EVD.
Fortunately, Buck and the rest of his family were all declared uninfected.
But the disease impacts far more than simply the individuals who contract it and their families. While it has caused at least 4,877 deaths according to WHO, it has also done massive damage to the delivery of all kinds of health services in the affected countries.
WHO spokesperson Nyka Alexander, who was on the ground in Sierra Leone for most of September, explained some of the disease’s wider effects. “Because of the fear of Ebola—and it’s a justified fear—health services have essentially shut down. People who would normally be going in with symptoms of malaria to get treatment or women who need to give birth in a health centre are afraid to go.”
Compounding the problem, she added, is the reality that “there is in fact a dearth of hospitals, and that is one of the problems to begin with, because there are so few health facilities—and the health facilities that existed are rather poor and understaffed.”
This is one of the reasons why the Anglican diocese of Freetown has donated land to the Ola During Children’s Hospital in the city of Freetown in order to create a holding centre for children suffering from Ebola. The holding centre, which is immediately adjacent to the bishop’s court, will ensure that people seeking regular medical attention can access it without risking infection.
The centre was built by German NGO Cap Anamur. Rogers-Wright noted that while the facility has been completed, it is still waiting to be furnished.
When asked how the global Anglican Communion and those in the West could be of help, Rogers-Wright said that Anglicans in Sierra Leone and Western Africa “expect the Anglican churches in the West/development nations to be in solidarity with us and continue to lift us up in prayers.” He added, “we could welcome whatever physical help can be given us, especially in procuring funds/supplies to alleviate the hardship of our people.”
As Nyka Alexander noted, help from governments, NGOs and individuals in the West is vital. “There’s no option for failure. You cannot conceive of not getting this under control.”