THE outbreak of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) reached an anniversary this week: it has now been spreading for a year, during which time 1798 people have died (News, 12 July).
It has become the second most deadly outbreak; the World Health Organization has declared it a public health emergency of international concern (News, 19 July). Last week, 41 new cases of the disease were recorded in the country: one of the highest weekly totals recorded so far in the outbreak.
The charity Tearfund is working on a programme to train church leaders to teach communities about preventing the spread of the disease. Faith leaders are widely trusted in their communities, compared with medics or agency workers, who have been subjected to violent attacks.
Tearfund has so far trained 482 faith leaders, who have since spoken to more than 250,000 people.
The programme director for Tearfund in the DRC, Hebdavi Muhindo, said that the training had already increased collaboration among different faith groups, including Muslim and Christian ones, and those with traditional beliefs.
“Faith leaders can be trusted. They can talk to people about the need for different funeral customs when someone has died from Ebola, to reassure families that their loved one can be prayed for without touching; that, though they aren’t able to follow traditional customs, it won’t stop their loved one from going to heaven.”
In some areas, medics trying to offer vaccinations have been met with violence and hostility.
The DRC is still suffering from conflict and insecurity, and other diseases, including malaria. Getting the message about hygiene, and the need for hand-washing, to people who have to undertake a two-hour round trip to get water, was difficult, Mr Muhindo said. “If people don’t have clean water and are hungry, then Ebola just becomes another demand upon them,” he said.
He asked for prayers for the survivors of the virus who are facing discrimination when they recover and return to their homes, and for those trying to treat the victims, who are exhausted by months of work.
The Archbishop of Congo, the Most Revd Masimango Katanda, said that the disease was rife in areas where many armed rebel groups were active, making treatment more difficult. 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.”