Barthelemy Bazemo
Throughout history, there have been cases of outbreak of infectious diseases that have claimed thousands and in some cases millions of lives, such as the bubonic plaque that swept across Europe in the 14th century and claimed an estimated 25 million people. However, the case of Ebola virus disease (EVD) that is affecting some West African communities underlies the issue that the Africa Faith & Justice Network (AFJN) has emphasized as the fundamental challenge of Africa, namely, the problem of governance and the lack of basic infrastructure which could easily be provided if their governments had harnessed their resources properly.
When EVD made the headlines in international media early April 2014, not much attention was given to tackle this problem. Many did not think it could reach the alarming proportions the world is now facing. From its early beginnings in the northeast of Guinea (Conakry) in December 2013, the disease swept into Liberia and Sierra Leone creating havoc in the affected communities. It reached Nigeria through a Liberian-born American traveling from Monrovia. EVD has so far claimed the lives of more 1,400 people in total. The Ebola outbreak sent shock waves across West Africa, Africa and beyond the borders of the continent. This is the worst ever known outbreak of the disease in human history since it was discovered in 1976. It has become now a major international health issue and the World Health Organization (WHO) has taken the lead, coordinating international efforts to battle the fatal illness, whose fatality/mortality rate according to health specialists is of up to 90%.
The strain of the disease is unprecedented. The affected areas are no-go zones, many businesses have closed. Populations across the region are frightened and the overall human toll is already enormous. All in all, governments across West Africa are overwhelmed by the challenges to put in place effective response mechanisms to contain the outbreak. To make matters worse, no proven vaccine or cure for the disease is available yet. The much-talked about treatment, ZMapp, made by Mapp Pharmaceuticals, is at its very early stages and has not been thoroughly tested in humans.
Despite the risks they faced, some brave men and women have undertaken to go beyond the call to duty to serve the poor at the expense of their own safety and security. While many foreign organizations are evacuating their members in the affected areas, missionaries are staying behind to be with, and serve the people at these critical and desperate times. They chose to care for the sick and comfort the families of those who have lost their loved ones. Cameroonian born Religious Brother Patrick Nshamdze, director of Saint Joseph´s Catholic Hospital in Liberia, Dr Sheik Umar Khan, a virologist and Sierra Leone’s top doctor died of Ebola as they took care of their patients. The later has been hailed a “national hero” for his work on Ebola. In Liberia, Miguel Pajares, a Spanish missionary priest met with the deadly disease and died in Madrid, just to mention a few.
It is in that context that, on August 15, 2014, the Africa Faith & Justice Network hosted Most Reverend Andrew Karnley, bishop of Cape Palmas in Liberia to shed light on the situation and look for ways to address other major issues the country is grappling with. Bishop Andrew highlighted the challenges his country in post war reconstruction and reconciliation, land grabbing and the need for infrastructure. Regarding the Ebola outbreak the sub-region is facing, he pointed out that the church continues to be with the people despite the threat of the disease. The church is in the forefront to provide assistance for the most vulnerable. He called on the international community to act fast before it is too late. On behalf of the Board and all members of AFJN, Aniedi Okure, the Executive Director of AFJN offered our deepest sympathy to the people of Liberia and those in the region affected by EVD and assured them of our prayers and support at these difficult times.