Dr. Albert Willicor, United Methodist missionary, consults a nurse on a patient’s treatment at Ganta Hospital in Liberia. Photo: James Rollins.
August 28, 2014—The United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries is continuing to be present and respond to the needs in West Africa as health officials try to contain the Ebola outbreak that has infected more than 3,065 people. Denise Honeycutt, who leads the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)—Global Ministries’ humanitarian aid unit—has been in regular contact with Bishop Yambasu of Sierra Leone and Bishop Innis of Liberia.
According to Honeycutt, “We want them to know that UMCOR is with them and responding with urgency to whatever the needs are, to get them through this crisis.”
To date, UMCOR has sent $383,000 in grants to Sierra Leone and Liberia. Funds are supporting tents and construction of isolation units, personal protective equipment, training for health staff, public messaging about Ebola, and safe handling of deceased bodies.
Grants also are providing much-needed healthcare supplies. Whenever possible, funds are being sent to United Methodist health boards to purchase supplies locally. UMCOR executive, Francesco Paganini, says this is the most efficient way to get the United Methodist health boards exactly what is needed as soon as possible.
When medical supplies are not readily available, UMCOR is working with trusted suppliers to provide an inventory list to the health boards. The health boards indicate what they need and how much they need. Because it can take months to ship by sea, UMCOR is shipping by air, though Paganini says the space is increasingly limited and expensive as the Ebola outbreak continues. “We want to make every shipment count and are very intentional about sending high-quality, needed supplies in the correct quantities,” he said.
Bishops Innis and Yambasu are also trying to streamline the process of requesting supplies through UMCOR. In a letter signed by them and Honeycutt, they asked donors to please donate through the International Disaster Response Advance instead of shipping supplies directly. They wrote, “This approach helps ensure the appropriateness, timeliness and quality of materials and avoids inclusion in shipments of used, damaged, out-of-date or otherwise inappropriate items.” This is consistent with UMCOR’s standards and helps relieve pressure in seaports and airports.
Ebola crisis is affecting all aspects of life
|United Methodist Bishop John K. Yambasu, chairman of the religious leaders task force, demonstrates to participants a new way of greeting instead of the traditional handshake. New traditions are being created to help prevent the spread of the Ebola virus. Photo by Phileas Jusu.
United Methodist missionaries, Helen Robert-Evans, who serves in Liberia, and Beatrice Gbanga, who serves in Sierra Leone, say that because of the Ebola crisis, many other areas of life are affected.
“The markets are closed. Schools are closed. Public gatherings are cancelled,” said Robert-Evans.
Gbanga added that when there are public gatherings such as at church in Sierra Leone, everyone is asked to wash exposed skin with a chlorine wash. “We pass the peace now with a wave or a bow,” she said. “This is a big cultural change for people who like to hug and touch.”
Robert-Evans and Gbanga are currently in the United States, along with a number of other missionaries who serve in the two countries most impacted by the Ebola crisis. They are speaking at United Methodist churches about the work that is happening and how churches can help.
Kip and Nancy Robinson, who serve in Sierra Leone, want people to know that, “Sierra Leone is more than just Ebola.” The Advance projects there and in Liberia need continued support so that when the crisis passes, the schools, ministries and other health programs will have the funding to resume.
The Ebola crisis is especially heart-wrenching for United Methodists, because of the long-standing presence of The United Methodist Church in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Churches in the United States have strong partnerships with churches in West Africa. The missionaries are deeply thankful to their partners throughout the United Methodist connection who continue to offer prayers and support to UMCOR’s response to the Ebola crisis. United Methodist churches that want to respond to the Ebola crisis in West Africa are encouraged to:
- Pray for the people who live under the fear of this disease, the families of those who have died, and the health professionals who are caring for people who have Ebola.
- Give to UMCOR International Disaster Response, Advance #982450, so that UMCOR can continue to partner with United Methodist health boards and other organizations working to respond to this and other disasters.
- Raise awareness about Ebola and about the importance, generally, of good healthcare systems and hygiene practices.