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Ebola: The Church’s Response

European Commission DG ECHO / Flickr CC
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Education is key, says Caritas official at UN in Geneva.

As West Africa battles an Ebola epidemic that has already killed 1,400 people, a top American health official has said that the virus at this point has the “upper hand” but he added that experts have the tools to stop it.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, made the comments on the same day as the president of one of the most affected countries, Liberia, fired all cabinet ministers and other top officials who defied her order to return to the country as it struggles to deal with the outbreak.

Speaking to Vatican Radio about the Church’s response to the epidemic, Msgr. Robert Vitillo, who heads the Geneva UN delegation for Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic aid organization, stressed the importance of education in countries severely affected by the virus.

“The Catholic Church is stressing through Caritas and other religious orders and other Catholic organizations [to be] active in terms of educating people about the risks of Ebola and also on the best ways to prevent infection and helping them especially find culturally appropriate ways to deal with the illness and especially to bury those who have died without exposing themselves to greater risk of infection.”

Asked about the level information or misinformation about Ebola, Msgr. Vitillo said, “The fact is that the greatest risk is not by travelling, but rather the greatest risk is to family members and people in close contact with those who are infected, including healthcare workers.”

From a human perspective he also underlines how important it is, when treating patients, to address the emotional issues while continuing to enforce the regulations needed to insure good public health.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa eventually could exceed 20,000 cases, more than six times as many as are now known, the World Health Organization said Thursday. A new plan released by the U.N. health agency to stop Ebola also assumes that the actual number of cases in many hard-hit areas may be two to four times higher than currently reported. If that’s accurate, it suggests there could be up to 12,000 cases already.

Currently, about half of the people infected with Ebola have died, so in the worst case scenario outlined by the WHO, the death toll could reach 10,000.

Separately Thursday, the U.S. National Institutes of Health announced it will start testing an experimental Ebola vaccine in humans next week. The vaccine was developed by the U.S. government and GlaxoSmithKline and the preliminary trial will test the shot in healthy U.S. adults in Maryland. At the same time, British experts will test the same vaccine in healthy people in the U.K., Gambia and Mali. The vaccine trial was accelerated in response to the outbreak. Preliminary results to determine if the vaccine is safe could be available within months.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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