Baptist leaders in West Africa have called for prayer and are taking precautionary measures to protect their constituencies and communities from the Ebola outbreak that is affecting Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
The Baptist World Alliance (BWA) sent an initial sum of US$5,000 to Sierra Leone to assist in a public education campaign about the disease.
Samuel Conteh, coordinator of social ministries for the Baptist Convention of Sierra Leone told the BWA that a Baptist Ebola Task Force has been formed "to coordinate the sensitization of Ebola outbreak in its various churches and other public places" and that "churches are being gradually provided with sanitization plastic buckets with chlorine tablets."
The education efforts have borne fruit, Conteh said. "The response is good. People have become better enlightened on the basic preventive measures against the disease."
He however, indicated that church activities have been negatively affected by the outbreak. "Church attendances are dwindling. Baptist activities are being slowed down, particularly in [the] epicenters. The traditional embracing and handshake among members after church service have disappeared."
The Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention (LBMEC) called "on our brothers and sisters with great urgency to pray for West Africa, especially Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone."
LBMEC declared, "We have encouraged our local Baptist churches, pastors and its leadership around Liberia through a massive electronic text messaging to commit to all the preventive practices that have been advanced by the health experts as well as the Government of Liberia on this deadly disease."
Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered that all schools close indefinitely, which include the Baptist-affiliated Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary, Rick's Institute and the Lott Carey Mission School.
"We are gravely concerned over the outbreak of this lethal disease and the protection of persons in our West Africa region," LBMEC stated. It expressed concern that "hospitals and medical clinics around Liberia have been abandoned because of the alarming death of health care providers and the lack of adequate protective gears and hygienic items. The abandonment of hospitals and medical clinics is critical since it is suspected now that many people are dying from other curable illnesses in additional to Ebola causes."
At least one Liberian Baptist, a nurse, died after she attended to an infected patient who succumbed to the disease.
"We pause to remember the compassionate, committed service of Sis. Alice M. Paasewe, who was on active duty as a nurse at the Phebe Referral Hospital, in central Liberia," LBMEC said. Paasewe, a Baptist church deacon, died shortly after her diagnosis. "Sis. Paasewe was a vibrant member of her church and a strong leader in the Woman's Missionary Union of our convention," the LBMEC said.
Supo Ayokunle, president of the Nigerian Baptist Convention (NBC) told the BWA that a delegation of women who were to attend a West African Baptist Women Congress in Togo, which began on August 4, cancelled their trip out of an abundance of caution.
NBC has taken preventive and other measures in Africa's most populous country. Nigeria has reported four cases and one death, a traveler to the country from Liberia. "I have declared three days of prayer and fasting to seek God's face to remove the plague and save all countries under the Ebola siege," Ayokunle said. "We are also sensitizing people on how to avoid infection."
The current Ebola outbreak first began in Guinea in March and has since spread to the bordering countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone. As of August 1, just over 1,600 suspected cases with 887 deaths have been reported by the World Health Organization.
It is believed that common cultural practices such as communal gatherings to be present with the sick and dying and the traditional washing of dead bodies as a sign of respect have helped to spread the virus among previously uninfected persons.
Ebola usually spreads by direct physical contact with an infected person or body fluids. Scientists claim the disease is not airborne.