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Angolan bishop wants to reduce panic from outbreak of deadly virus

 


Angolan bishop wants to reduce panic from outbreak of deadly virus

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Bishop Gaspar Joao Domingos

April 27, 2005

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS) — A United Methodist bishop in Angola is hoping the church can help reduce the panic that has occurred in that African country since the outbreak of the deadly Marburg virus.

Bishop Gaspar Joao Domingos of the denomination’s West Angola area, said he became aware of the virus last October. “But those were very isolated cases and there was not much attention about it,” he told United Methodist News Service through a translator.

The outbreak in recent weeks, however, had killed 230 people by mid-April, including 14 nurses and two doctors, according to the New York Times. A cousin to the Ebola virus, Marburg spreads through blood, vomit and other bodily fluids and is highly contagious, even after the victim’s death. In the recent outbreak, nine out of 10 of those infected have died.

Domingos discussed the problem while in New York to attend an April meeting of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

Thirty-three United Methodist churches are in the provinces where the outbreak has occurred, Domingos said. But because of quarantines, he has no information about how many church members have been affected.

Fear about the disease has increased because doctors and nurses have been infected and died, he added.

“People, in general, are afraid to go to the hospital,” he said. This has made controlling the virus more difficult, and the situation may be getting worse instead of better, he said.

Burial issues have added to the problems of infection. If a person identified with the virus dies, health workers in protected gear remove the body to a special section in the cemetery. But this also prevents the family from having traditional funeral ceremonies and rituals.

On the other hand, the bishop noted, if such ceremonies are held, “the people who come to the funeral can catch the virus from the dead person.”

Domingos hopes that medical personnel will be able to learn from the experience of the Ebola virus outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo and perhaps apply those techniques in Angola.

In addition, he said, the church needs to raise awareness about the Marburg virus, and he has discussed possible strategies for such a campaign with the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

“We want to be able to do away with the fear of it,” he said, so the country can cope with the situation to the point where it can be eradicated.

“The more we run from it,” he said, “the closer it comes chasing us.”

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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