Africa has been the cradle of some intriguing diseases. Specialists have dwelt on the insidious AIDS virus, and now they are laying tactical efforts in tackling the upsurge of the “Ebola” epidemics.
The name comes from a fortuitous incident of Mabalo Lokela, the director of a village school in Yambuku in the north of the Congo Democratic Republic. Upon visiting an area near the border with the Central African Republic, along River Ebola, he got ill between 12 and 22 of August 1976. On September 8 he died, and became the zero case of the later known as Ebolavirus.
During an informal conversation at the Catholic Archdiocese Chancery in Johannesburg, on September 30, we had the occasion of assessing, as if from an aerial view, the status questionis of the escalating ‘Ebola’ epidemics, as a plutôt concerning reality.
But the certainty granted in Psalm 23, 1 gives us the guarantee that, acting outright on the issue with accurate care and in global cooperation, people may face this “apocalyptic chastisement”, for “The Lord is my shepherd…”.
The genesis of this virus disease is in the animal kingdom, more especially the Baboon race, that is to say, the gorillas, chimpanzees and monkeys. Due to their biological system resistance they can survive better the virus. But the contact of humans with these animals results in a deadly virus discharge which takes place through handling them or through the ingestion of their meat.
After infection, the transmission of the virus can be done through a mere hand shaking; the conviviality by using the same utensils; or, in one key word, through the lack of basic and special hygiene. Transmission can also be airborne.
Now, considering that there are Africans who eventually feed themselves on the meat of those animals or on others that feed on them, the high level risk increases.
Incubation of the virus takes up to 21 days.
The more common symptoms may be: frequent sneezing; headaches; fever; lack of body strength; intestinal cramps; vomiting; diarrhoea and haemorrhage, when, in the two last symptoms liver and kidneys are already undermined.
The bearers or not and their families are recommended a strict hygiene process by washing all food to be cooked or to be taken raw, like fruits and so on; and frequently washing of hands with soap. Toilets must have the basic cleanliness required, and dishes and utensils must be carefully washed as well.
The ideal is that dead animals be identified and carefully buried or better yet incinerated, to avoid being picked by dogs, for example, who in their turn, will carry the virus.
So far, there have been 6.263 cases of Ebola, with about 3.000 deaths registered in the Western African countries situated in the sub-Sahara region: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leo, Nigeria and Congo (DRC).
There is no specific medicine for the disease, as of now. While specialists study a possible efficacious drug, it is recommended much rest and frequent food and liquids as preventive, or as first aid.
Nevertheless, the greater preoccupation is with the precarious sanitary system of human groups. The lack of water, or its scarcity; the lack of germicide and cleaning products in certain areas bring about the absence of personal and environmental hygiene.
The daily Johannesburg STAR came to classify the disease as “even more deadly than it had appeared.”
Mozambican authorities have set special department in the Ministry of Health to prevent the spread of the disease. At Maputo airport new comers are inspected with a little machine to measure every passenger’s temperature.
Although the Church does not have specific medical resources to counter-act the epidemics, the effort done by Episcopal Conferences of the concerned countries is centred in a preventive “pastoral” by setting up public information drive, instructing families and training special agents to respond to the possible expansion of the virus.
In the liturgy of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time, the Gospel of St. Luke 10, 25-37 sends a bright message concerning the attitude one should have in the face of such epidemic. The behaviour of the Samaritan who takes off his journey to care for the injured traveller that he found, can very well be a mind setting model in the fight against the disease.
In the meantime the International Community should concour, in emergency move, not only with medicines but also with water, metabolized food, clothing and cleaning supplies towards a vast spectrum of hygiene.
Cicero Sobreira de Sousa, special envoy