Liberian bishop: Lack of proper health care facilitates rapid spread of Ebola

Tenafly, N.J. — The emergence of Ebola in West Africa ought to be an "awakening for Liberia and for the world of the need for proper health care," said Bishop Andrew Karnley of the diocese of Cape Palmas, Liberia.

The bishop, who has been on a mission appeal tour in St. Louis and meeting with church officials in New York, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, spoke with NCR on Sunday at the headquarters of the SMA Fathers here. Karnley called health care "a basic human right, not a privilege."

To date, an estimated 1,100 of the more than 2,600 cases of Ebola reported in West Africa have been in Liberia, where approximately 60 health care workers have died of the virus and another 115 have been reported infected with Ebola. Among the deaths were those of a Spanish priest, two religious brothers, a social worker and a lab technician. All the dead worked at a Catholic hospital in Monrovia, the Liberian capital.

Two nuns from the hospital, which is now closed, are in isolation, he said.

He blamed the disease's severity on the fact that Liberia has no emergency services in place, has had no experience with Ebola and has had to deal with "a culture of denial" in some cases, he said.

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Moreover, the nation lacks the basic resources that would help stem the spread of the virus: personal protective equipment, latex gloves, rain boots, chlorine, facial masks, heavy-duty plastic aprons, goggles, antiseptic hand sensitizers and powder soap, he noted.

Currently, the SMA Fathers, an order that has many missionaries in Liberia, is collecting these items for shipment to Liberia.  Karnley, a diocesan priest, said he was "a protégé of the SMAs, who have supported me all my life."

He hoped U.S. Catholics would take the "long view" and help support Catholic hospitals and clinics in Liberia and partner with Liberia to train health care workers. He pointed to a Catholic college for nurses run by an American Franciscan sister.

Karnley said contributions earmarked for Liberia and sent to Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Medical Mission Board, the World Health Organization, Doctors Without Borders or any of the other organizations working in the country would help the nation deal with the Ebola outbreak.

[Patricia Lefevere is a longtime NCR contributor.]

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