FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, Friday January 2, 2015 – The deadly Ebola virus continues to spread in West Africa, especially in Sierra Leone which accounted for 337 of 476 new laboratory-confirmed cases since December 24. Of these, 149 occurred in Freetown, marking the highest incidence in the capital in four weeks.
Against this backdrop, the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone launched a seven-day, nationwide fasting, prayer, and education campaign on New Year’s Day to help the government’s effort in combatting the killer disease, according to Abdulai Bayraytay, a spokesman for the administration in Freetown.
Comprising Muslims and Christians, the religious group met on Tuesday to design a campaign following discussions with President Ernest Bai Koroma.
The president had expressed the belief that “We must crown all of our efforts [to combat Ebola] with some amount of prayer and fasting especially as the country prepares for the New Year.”
He urged Sierra Leoneans to start the New Year by committing the nation in prayers and fasting so that “we can have the kind of divine direction and grace that is required.
“We must use the power of one of the most potent of weapons that we have,” he added, noting that Jesus declared that “some things only can be moved by prayer and fasting.”
Bayraytay welcomed the initiative as a positive development.
“This seven-day fasting period according to the Inter-religious Council is more to provide meditation, the recitation of the Koran and the Holy Bible as well as using this as an effective medium to further communicate to the public on the do’s and don’ts as long as we are in the fight against the spread against the Ebola virus,” he said.
The campaign is being broadcast on national television and radio stations as well as on social media platforms and the Independent Radio Network, made up of networks owned by private organizations.
“They are quite willing to hook up so that the entire country can benefit from this opportunity…I think that is very key, the reason being we want to make sure whatever message is coming from our religious leaders trickles down to the people at the village level so that all of us can be on the same page,” Bayraytay said.
The number of known Ebola cases worldwide has now exceeded 20,000, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.
The death toll from the outbreak, which has been mostly confined to West Africa, has risen to 7,905, the WHO said, following 317 fatalities recorded since it last issued figures on December 24.
The number of known cases, including fatalities, totalled 20,206 at year-end.
Cases of Ebola have so far been reported in nine countries.
In Britain, a nurse was diagnosed with the disease this week on her return from Sierra Leone. She is being treated with blood plasma from a survivor of the virus and an experimental antiviral drug, the London hospital treating her said on Wednesday.
She had travelled from Sierra Leone to Glasgow via London and did not show symptoms during her journey, although she was “believed to have become febrile around the time of arrival to London,” according to the WHO.
The Ebola crisis is likely to continue until the end of 2015, according to Peter Piot, a London-based scientist who helped to discover the virus in 1976 in the former Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo.