Sierra Leone religious leaders criticize
government handling of Ebola
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[July 21, 2014]
FREETOWN (Reuters) - Religious
leaders in Sierra Leone criticized the government's handling of an Ebola
outbreak that has killed 194 people in the West Africa country, saying a
lack of information was prompting rural communities to shun medical
Bishop John Yambasu, chairman of an interfaith task force, said he
was "seriously disappointed" the government had failed to declare a
public health emergency and pump more resources into the fight
against Ebola, which has infected 400 people in the country during a
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said last week that Ebola had
killed 603 people in total in Sierra Leone and neighboring Guinea
and Liberia since February, the world's deadliest outbreak of the
The highest number of deaths in recent weeks had been recorded in
Sierra Leone, the WHO said. It warned of resistance from remote
rural communities to allowing access to doctors amid fears that
outsiders were spreading the disease.
"Every day in this country the number of new cases is increasing. To
us as religious leaders that is unacceptable," Yambasu, head of the
United Methodist Church of Sierra Leone, told Reuters. He said the
government was too concerned by the "political connotations" of
declaring an emergency.
Health Minister Miatta Kargbo has said the Ebola outbreak is "a
serious matter" but has not reached emergency levels.
Amid a lack of funds to fight the outbreak, dozens of laboratory
technicians at Sierra Leone's only Ebola-testing facility went on
strike last week over a $20 monthly risk premium which they were
promised but never paid.
Ebola causes fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhoea and was first
detected in Democratic Republic of Congo in the mid-1970s. Spread
through contact with blood and bodily fluids, it is one of the
deadliest viruses, killing up to 90 percent of those infected, and
has no known cure.
Yambasu said that in Kailahun in eastern Sierra Leone - the
epicenter of the outbreak - locals had dug trenches to bar
ambulances and police from accessing their communities. Many locals
regard being taken to an isolation ward as a death sentence.
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"It is likely that people are dying in the bush" due to lack of
information about the disease, he said, adding that leaving those
infected in their communities was encouraging the virus to spread.
Yambasu said religious leaders would preach in their churches and
mosques for a change of attitude toward the disease and would visit
the center of the outbreak and call for change.
Sierra Leone's religious leaders played a leading role in ending a
brutal 1991-2002 civil war.
"It is as a result of our experiences of the past that we have
invited ourselves into this Ebola struggle," he said.
(Reporting by Umaru Fofana; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Susan
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