Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Faith Leaders and the Ebola Epidemic in Africa

If you're not on the list to receive headlines from the Anglican Communion News Service or the Episcopal News Service, you may have missed this (it was circulated by both services). Three bishops of Anglican dioceses in west Africa recently visited England where they spoke both to the Anglican Alliance and to General Synod about the church's response to and participation in the efforts against ebola in the recent epidemic. At the link above there is information about their meeting with Anglican Alliance, and also other information about responding to ebola.

One of the resources there that I found especially interesting was Keeping the Faith: The Role of Faith Leaders in the Ebola Response. This publication of Christian Aid is worth reviewing. It reports a study describing how religious leaders, both Christian and Muslim, were critical in gathering community support and convincing anxious communities to accept medical assistance. While the document is quite long, the Executive Summary, beginning on page 8, describes the findings well. Initially, some communities feared the government intervention as much as the disease. After disease had struck a village or a family, there was significant stigma. Initially, the medical workers were not interested in participation from faith leaders. However, once engaged, faith leaders were able to provide educators whose authority was accepted to help communities understand the disease and the necessary help. They were also able to provide support for disrupted families and communities, and to address directly the issues of stigma.

We were anxious in the United States about ebola, even though the risks to the population as a whole were small and manageable. This report speaks from the center of the outbreak, where risks were great and resources for control thin. It's helpful to see how faith leaders, with their established authority in their communities, were able to take the lead in providing care for prevention, treatment, and community need. I hope you'll take time to at least read the Executive Summary.