Magazine article The Christian Century

A Year after Ebola Crisis, New Cases

Magazine article The Christian Century

A Year after Ebola Crisis, New Cases

Article excerpt

A year after the World Health Organization declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa a global emergency last August 8, cases are beginning to appear again.

The death toll has risen to more than 11,000 people since March 2014, with Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone being the most deeply affected. More than 26,000 have contracted the virus.

In early summer, Haja Koroma, a nurse based in Kenema, Sierra Leone, was just getting comfortable with the idea that her town had been virus-free for more than 100 days--and might stay that way. Schools reopened in March, and employment rates have been returning to pre-Ebola crisis levels.

But then the news came that new cases, including a death in a small town outside Monrovia, Liberia, had broken Liberia's "Ebola-free" designation of almost two months. The new cases are dealing a blow to morale in Sierra Leone and Guinea--both of which have looked to Liberia's successful efforts for inspiration in their last push toward fully eradicating the virus.

"Some of my colleagues died of Ebola in trying to save others with the disease," Koroma said.

The Ebola virus has stubbornly hung on in Sierra Leone, even though 79 percent of the country is virus-free. The country can be declared free from Ebola only after 42 days without a case.

"Though the case in Liberia is far away from the border with Sierra Leone, it is disturbing, as a single case could restart a whole new outbreak of Ebola," says Sidie Tunis of the National Ebola Response Center.

A panel of experts released a report in July criticizing the WHO for its "bureaucratic culture," believed to have slowed its response.

"We didn't go into it saying, 'we must blame somebody,"' said Barbara Stocking, the former head of Oxfam Great Britain who led the panel. "We were much more focused on this being a learning exercise."

In Freetown, Sierra Leone, across the street from the modern hotel that accommodates responders from the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control, an entire neighborhood endured quarantine. The orange plastic fencing draping the area indicated that for 21 days no one inside the fence could legally leave, and they would be monitored for any sign of the virus.

Joseph Bangura was one of the more than 300 living behind this flimsy barrier. He works at a fish market where a boat arrived in mid-May with a handful of passengers from a northern village. One man on board was already dead from Ebola, and the others were whisked away to treatment facilities. Bangura had no means of earning income while quarantined.

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"I am worried about my family, and they are worried about me," he said.

Over the last year, John K. Yambasu, the United Methodist bishop for Sierra Leone, has witnessed the far-reaching repercussions of Ebola. He has lost parishioners and pastors to the virus. He has seen the death of a beloved Methodist surgeon and the closing of United Methodist health clinics and schools. And he prayed with his people as they struggled to earn a living as society ground to a halt. Yambasu steers the Religious Leaders Task Force on Ebola.

"We all came together, imams and pastors, and trained in the area of basic prevention," Yambasu said. It was this task force that pressured the government to declare Ebola a national health emergency and put into place more stringent controls.

With the help of United Methodist Communications, Yambasu and Liberian bishop John Innis have sent daily text messages of encouragement and information to their pastors. …

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