NEW YORK—As the deadly Ebola outbreak devastates West Africa, Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to proactively educate their members about the disease.
Upon learning that the Ebola virus had been found in Guinea and had quickly spread to nearby Liberia and Sierra Leone, branch offices of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the region immediately sent letters to alert all congregations in the three countries. Incorporating guidelines and suggestions provided by local government agencies, the letters explained the dangers of the virus, how the virus is transmitted, and what precautionary measures should be taken to prevent the spread of the disease. “Being in an area where medical diseases are not well understood and where false rumors about the source of Ebola were widespread, many people were initially confused about what to do,” states Collin Attick, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sierra Leone. “But when our congregation members heard the instructions at their Kingdom Hall, they responded promptly and positively.”
In July, traveling representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses began making special two-day visits to each congregation in Sierra Leone and Guinea. The visits feature a talk entitled “Obedience Saves Lives,” with the objective of increasing awareness of practical safeguards against the disease as well as encouraging continued adherence to the latest guidelines available. These visits will continue through November 2014. Additionally, the Witnesses provided hand-washing stations containing water mixed with bleach at the entrance of each of the Witnesses’ places for worship (known as Kingdom Halls) in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Most Witnesses in these countries are following that example, providing a hand-washing station at their home.
As a precaution, a Witness family cooperates with an area quarantine in Dolo’s Town, a community east of Monrovia, Liberia. The quarantine was lifted on September 8, 2014.
According to a report by the World Health Organization dated October 1, 2014, there have been 7,178 cases reported and more than 3,300 victims have died in the current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, although the numbers are expected to increase. As of October 2, of the 2,800 Witnesses in Guinea and Sierra Leone, one female Witness who was a nurse contracted the Ebola virus and died on September 25, 2014. Of the 6,365 Witnesses in Liberia, 10 have died as a result of the disease; 6 were health workers. Although the virus has also spread into Nigeria recently, none of the Witnesses there have contracted the disease. Additionally, no Witness missionaries in these countries are reported to be infected; as the virus was spreading, a number of these missionaries were away on vacation or attending conventions in Europe and the United States. Some have recently returned to their missionary activity and are heeding necessary precautions and instructions from the local branch office. Other missionaries are waiting to return due to flight restrictions or other circumstances.
A hand-washing station at a Kingdom Hall in Sierra Leone.
Relief committees of Witness volunteers are assisting local Witnesses in caring for the needs of their families and fellow worshippers in the West African countries hardest hit by Ebola. “Following Bible principles of cleanliness and quarantine is helping us to deal with this situation,” states Thomas Nyain, Sr., spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Liberia. “As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we also avoid unscriptural burial practices. This is proving to be a protection for all of our members, especially during this critical time.”
In Sierra Leone, an announcement aired on a local radio station outlining how Jehovah’s Witnesses helped their members and non-Witnesses in the community to avoid the Ebola virus. The authorities there also requested that the Witnesses’ relief committee assist the government’s agencies in the region.
“We are encouraged to see our fellow believers in West Africa exercising caution while continuing their spiritual activities and Bible education work to the extent possible,” comments J. R. Brown, international spokesman at the Witnesses’ world headquarters in New York. “Our spiritual brothers and sisters and others coping with the impact of this Ebola virus are in our thoughts and prayers.”
- Media Contact(s):
- International: J. R. Brown, Office of Public Information, tel. +1 718 560 5000
- Guinea: Thierry Pourthié, tel. +224 631 40 96 50
- Liberia: Thomas Nyain, Sr., tel. +231 886 513 414
- Nigeria: Paul Andrew, tel. +234 7080 662 020
- Sierra Leone: Collin Attick, tel. +232 77 850 790