By Jim Stipe
Baltimore, MD, April 14, 2014 — Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is responding to the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa that has claimed more than 120 lives.
Last month, the West African country of Guinea-Conakry recorded its first cases of Ebola virus disease. So far the virus, the world’s deadliest, has killed more than 100 people in Guinea and at least five in neighboring Liberia. While no cases have been reported in Senegal, the country closed its land borders with Guinea-Conakry on March 30. Mali identified six suspected cases of Ebola on April 4th.
“The Ebola virus is fatal in up to 90 percent of cases. There is no vaccine or cure. So it is very important to quickly detect the infection and prevent it from spreading,” said Godlove Ntaw, CRS’ country representative in Guinea-Conakry. “This is one of the most challenging Ebola outbreaks the world has seen, as it has spread across multiple countries.”
Ebola is a haemorrhagic fever caused by a virus, and is spread by direct contact with bodily fluids. Family members and those close to infected individuals, those washing bodies and conducting burials, and health workers are at highest risk of infection.
CRS’ local partners have sent 30 teams to the affected areas of Guinea-Conakry and CRS will be supporting its Caritas partners in awareness campaigns, prevention, diagnosis and treatment, and alerting health officials of suspected cases for diagnosis and treatment.
In Liberia, CRS is partnering with the Liberia National Catholic Health Council to ensure health care workers in 18 Catholic health facilities are informed on how Ebola is transmitted and have access to personal protection equipment (PPE) for infection control. CRS has distributed those equipment kits, along with bleach, to 13 health facilities. The kits include gloves, aprons, masks, goggles, rubber boots, and plastic sheets.
“Good, thorough hand washing can reduce your risk of becoming infected with the Ebola virus,” said Cheryl Morgan, CRS’ head of programs in Liberia. “The virus is easily killed with soap, bleach, sunlight or drying, and infected people are not contagious until they are acutely ill.”
Human-to-human transmission of the Ebola virus is only achieved by physical contact with a person who is acutely or gravely ill.
In Guinea-Conakry, CRS plans to develop educational health messages in coordination with the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization. They will be disseminated via radio and television advertisements, including messages about disease prevention and symptoms. CRS will also work through the Church network to educate priests and imams so they can reach out and build awareness among their faith communities. CRS will organize and train volunteers to conduct awareness campaigns and sessions at the grassroots level, as well as to conduct home visits for disinfection and sensitization.
In Sierra Leone, CRS and its partners will contract radio stations in all districts to air messages on awareness, prevention and diagnosis, and support radio panel discussions to educate communities in rural, high risk areas.
The Government of Guinea has agreed to provide free treatment to all affected people in the isolated treatment centers. It also initiated a census of all people who have been in direct contact with those who died from the virus and all people presenting Ebola symptoms. The government is urging people to point out any suspected cases to authorities.
CRS has taken steps to help staff members protect themselves, make sure they understand how the virus is transmitted and how to take precautions.
Catholic Relief Services
Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in 93 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. For more information, visit www.crs.org or www.crsespanol.org and follow Catholic Relief Services on social media: Facebook, Twitter at @CatholicRelief and @CRSnews, Google+, Pinterest and YouTube.