Church should help prevent Ebola

TWO weeks ago the government, through the Ministry of Health and the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) in the Vice-President’s Office, kicked off the nationwide sensitisation campaign.
The main objective of this campaign is to prevent and prepare for any outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus disease.
On the basis of expert information the government realised that the most effective way of achieving the two objectives is raising public awareness of the deadly nature of the disease.
So far the local media have rallied to the cause and have been disseminating information on Ebola through their various platforms.
The Zambia Daily Mail, for example, has been running news stories, feature articles, opinion pieces, letters to the editor and fact sheets to help Zambians understand, prevent and prepare for the disease.
It is, however, disappointing that this important campaign is not receiving full support from one of the most important stakeholders – the Church.
Some Christian leaders have defied the advice from the Ministry of Health to minimise direct body contact through handshakes to reduce the chances of contracting the infection.
The Ebola virus disease is passed on from one human to another through coming into contact with the body fluids of those infected, whether they are dead or alive.
Handshakes increase the risk of transmission a hundredfold, which is why the Ministry of Health warned people to make an effort to move away from the culture of handshakes.
Church services bring large numbers of people to one place at once with high levels of interaction.
Many congregants have not seen one another for the entire week, and the first thing that comes to their minds when they meet again at church is to shake hands.
We shudder to imagine what would happen if one congregant was infected and had body fluid in their palm, and shook hands with at least five or more other congregants.
The person whose hands this infected person would shake would also shake that of many others.
An infection would therefore spread like wind.
This is why we are baffled by the dismissive attitude of some of the people who should be in the forefront of the prevention effort.
In Lusaka media reports have quoted a Catholic priest as insisting that congregants will continue shaking their hands because Zambia is not one of the countries at risk.
Father Charles Chilinda of St Ignatius parish is reported to have vowed that his congregation will continue with the old tradition of shaking hands.
His defence for this dangerous practice is that the Ebola virus has not yet been reported in Zambia; that there has not been a single case of infection yet.
This is worrying.
During service there is a point at which an officiating priest asks all congregants to shake one another’s hand as a gesture of peace.
What would happen if one of the congregants was infected without knowing?
We urge churches to help the government to protect the country’s population from the virus.
Good health is part of the whole Gospel as can be seen in the various books of the Holy Bible.
When God gave the children of Israel His moral law and other statutes He included health.
In fact He included solid waste disposal.
We therefore expect the Church to play a leading role in the sensitisation of citizens on the importance of prevention.