Ebola outbreak: your questions answered

10 January 2015

What is the current situation of the Ebola crisis?

On 7 November 2015, Sierra Leone was officially declared Ebola free, after 42 days of no new cases of the Ebola virus, entering a 90 day period of monitoring. In response to the announcement CAFOD Director Chris Bain said: "This is the joyous news that the men, women and children of Sierra Leone have been waiting for. Having gone through an unimaginable time for over a year, the relief must be palpable for the people who have had to live with this terrible disease.

"Catholics across England and Wales who donated to CAFOD and the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Ebola crisis appeals, should be proud. They too were part of the vital international effort to halt the spread of the Ebola virus.

"In a time of need, Britain didn’t look away. We came together with compassion and generosity to reach out to the poorest and most vulnerable.

"But the work is not over. Now more than ever we need to ensure that the havoc Ebola has wreaked on people throughout the country – stigma, loss of employment, loss of family members – is tackled.

"With this welcome announcement, our thoughts are with the people and our Sierra Leonean partners who will remain on the frontline in the long road to recovery".

According to the World Health Organisation, the total number of Ebola infection cases reached 28,073, and the number of people reported as having died from the disease in six countries – Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, the US and Mali –  reached more than 11,290.

CAFOD's safe and dignified burial teams worked with diligence and compassion to contain the spread of Ebola and help to halt the spread of the virus in the country.

Pray for communities affected

CAFOD and its partners response

Community awareness raising:

CAFOD directly reached over 170,000 people through its social sensitisation programme – training 8,683 church volunteers, including priests and imams making house to house visits to raise awareness about Ebola prevention.

Safe and dignified burials:

In Kambia we provided safe and dignified burials. Training six teams of ten people made up of men and women. Ebola can quickly spread through contact with the bodily fluids of people who have died from the disease, ensuring that burials are done safely and with dignity is crucial in safe-guarding communities from further spread of the Ebola virus. 

We are able to do this work as part of the SMART Consortium – an alliance of faith-based organisations (CAFOD, World Vision and Catholic Relief Services - CRS). The Consortium led by World Vision,  won the prestigious BOND International Humanitarian Award, which was awarded on the 1st June 2015. The award recognises the courageous service of the more than 800 burial workers who served tirelessly to bring a halt to the spread of the Ebola virus.

The teams were also commended, at the BOND award ceremony, for observing cultural customs, faith traditions for both Christians and Muslims, while preventing contamination of family members.

Outbreak Prevention kit distributions:

We've distributed Outbreak Prevention kits, containing materials (protective clothing, bleach, cleaning materials), to 995 places of worship across the districts of Kenema (424), Kailahun (301) and Kambia (270).This will enable them to safely manage situations of potential Ebola outbreaks.

What are the challenges CAFOD and its partners face.

CAFOD's Humanitarian Response Manager for Sierra Leone and Liberia, Dennis Momoh, says that complacency is one of the biggest challenges:  “We can’t afford to be complacent as one single new infection not dealt with quickly and contained could reignite the outbreak again.”

Why is it important to continue community led awareness raising?

Barriers to overcoming the epidemic include stigma around Ebola, misconceptions, denial and traditional burial practices. We're working with influential community representatives, religious leaders and chiefs to help improve understanding. In Sierra Leone our church partners and their trained teams of volunteers are leading the community efforts to continue to work on Ebola prevention messages and combating stigma. 

How are CAFOD partners and staff able to move about safely?

CAFOD's local partners are mainly based in the affected communities, and are known and trusted by community members. They still need to travel by road to reach communities that we are supporting, but they are familiar with the terrain, and follow stringent guidelines on how best to deliver aid or prevention information that minimises exposure to risk of infection.

How much money has CAFOD raised so far?

Parishes, schools and individuals across England and Wales have responded with huge compassion to our Ebola crisis appeal, donating more than two million pounds to help with halting the spread of the virus. 

This money has been spent in support our Church partners vital work of educating people about the risks, to provide essential hygiene kits and washing-stations, and to ensure that burials are carried out safely.

What effect is Ebola having on society in general?

The outbreak has affected the rest of the health system, as resources are diverted to treat patients, leaving clinics and hospitals unable to administer general healthcare, and having to close. Our partner Archbishop Edward Thamba Charles – Freetown explains the impact that Ebola has had on society:  “What Ebola did was to expose the weakness of our infrastructure, not just our health systems, but our water and sanitation, our education, even our road networks. 

“In our hour of need CAFOD and many others came to Sierra Leone and supported us to fight this terrible Ebola disease.

“My prayer is that we’ll receive the help we now need to strengthen our health facilities, and infrastructure, because we must be better prepared for the next time.”

Is the Ebola virus affecting CAFOD’s existing work in West Africa?

The crisis has had a regional dimension as Ebola significantly impacts on the entire West-African economy, and particularly the poorest communities.  The underlying causes and rapid spread of the disease are not just medical, but also have political, economic and security dimensions. The effects are felt at all levels - local, national, regional and global.

All the communities we work with across Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea have been affected by this devastating disease. We continue to monitor and bolster our programmes where needed, continuing to support existing livelihoods programmes where these are still viable, and taking careful measures to make sure that all our staff are protected, by ensuring that they comply with stringent health and safety protocols. We are also in constant communication with our partners to ensure we meet their needs as they start to rebuild people's lives.

What is Ebola?

Ebola virus disease is a severe acute viral illness often characterised by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.

Ebola first emerged in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976, and until the current crisis began in 2014 in West Africa, the disease had killed around 2,000 people in a number of separate outbreaks. It is thought to infect humans through contact with infected animals, including chimpanzees, fruit bats and forest antelope. It can then spread between humans via bodily fluids.

People who are infected with the current strain of Ebola on average have only a 30 per cent chance of survival - in many cases less, given the low levels of health services available in the rural areas of West Africa where it has hit. There is no vaccine and no known cure, although tests for vaccines and treatment options are underway. The most commonly used treatment is to keep the patient hydrated, as is the case with most fevers. Patients have a better chance of survival if they are diagnosed early and receive early treatment.

How is Ebola transmitted?

The virus is transmitted between humans via bodily fluids, and via surfaces that a sick person has come into contact with – for example, bed sheets or shared towels. Even funeral ceremonies for Ebola victims can cause risks, if mourners have direct contact with the bodies of infected people.

By following a few important procedures, the spread of Ebola can usually be stopped relatively easily. Patients need to be kept in isolation, and their nurses or visitors must wear protective suits or avoid coming into direct contact with them.

One reason that the virus has spread so extensively in West Africa is a widespread fear and lack of trust in the advice given on Ebola prevention. Many people don’t have access to reliable information, and high death rates and stigmatisation make people afraid to take their loved ones to hospitals, even if medical facilities are available.

How long has CAFOD worked in Sierra Leone and Liberia?

CAFOD has a long history of working in both Sierra Leone and Liberia, in times of peace, war and rebuilding, over the last 30 years or so.

With support from the Catholic community of England and Wales we’ve worked together to respond to the civil war in both countries during the 1990s, and more recently as part of Lent Fast Day supporters raised money to support inspired food projects in Kenema, Sierra Leone,  one of the hardest hit areas affected by the Ebola outbreak.

Because of that history and our well established  partnerships we are able to respond to the Ebola crisis through the network of church partners across dioceses in both countries, who were able to deliver, at the height of the  disease, lifesaving prevention information, hygiene kits, and where needed food to quarantined and vulnerable families.

We remain constantly in touch with our partners who tell us what the greatest needs on the ground are as communities recover from the impacts of the Ebola crisis. 

Pray for communities affected

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