Indiana United Methodists have had a special relationship with the West African countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Through such organizations as Operation Classroom, Sierra Leone Health Partners and others, many churches and many individuals in Indiana have a personal relationship with people in West Africa. The current Ebola Crisis in West Africa (declared as an International Health Emergency last week by the World Health Organization [W.H.O.]) is a real and significant concern for the Indiana United Methodist Church.
Here is information Indiana United Methodists need to be aware of regarding the current crisis.
- The health care infrastructure in both countries, which is limited to begin with, has been completely overwhelmed by the current crisis.
- As a result of the death of numerous health care workers, many clinics and hospitals in both countries have closed – health care workers, fearful for their own lives, won’t come to work.
- However, all four United Methodist hospitals in the two countries remain open and operating. Information regarding UM clinics is unsure.
Indiana United Methodists need to be aware that:
- The United Methodist Church has been in Liberia and Sierra Leone for nearly as long as it’s been in the United States (since the early 1800s.)
- The United Methodist Church is the largest protestant denomination in both countries with about 500 United Methodist churches in Liberia, and 300 UM churches in Sierra Leone.
- Health care is a significant part of the United Methodist presence there, with three United Methodist Hospitals in Sierra Leone (Kissy UMC in Freetown, Mercy UM Hospital in Bo, and Rotifunk UM Hospital in Rotifunk), and Ganta UM Hospital in Ganta, Liberia. There also are numerous United Methodist clinics scattered across both countries.
The world has finally begun to take notice of this tragedy. Last week, the World Health Organization declared the crisis an International Health Emergency. As an immediate result:
- The World Bank pledged up to $200 million in emergency funding to help the countries affected by Ebola and strengthen public health systems across West Africa.
- The European Union said it would donate an additional eight million euros ($10.7 million) to Ebola efforts and send a second mobile lab to help with diagnostics.
- USAID also announced it would invest an extra $12.45 million to support the fight against Ebola.
All these contributions are on top of previous contributions.
The United Methodist Church has engaged through its emergency relief arm United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) with $87,000 of funding to the United Methodist Health Departments of the Liberia and Sierra Leone UM Annual conferences and is working with those organizations to determine what else can be done. Visit www.umcor.org for more information about the Ebola emergency including a video.
Many United Methodists here in Indiana, as well as others who are part of the UM connection, are asking “What can WE do? How can we help? What support can we provide?”
Our first response, as always, is prayer. And that prayer needs to be focused on providing us with the wisdom and discernment to respond appropriately. There is much that we can do; there also are actions we need to be very cautious about doing.
It’s important to understand that we cannot be “first responders.” W.H.O., Doctors without Borders, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention and others who are trained and equipped to deal with this kind of crisis will need to be the front line “boots on the ground.” Funding for these organizations will, of necessity, come from governments and government-related entities such as the World Bank.
As for United Methodists, most direct relief assistance needs to be directed through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). UMCOR is equipped to engage with these issues, and has the contacts with WHO, Doctors without Borders and others to interface in appropriate ways. Doctors without Borders has requested that THEY cannot accommodate any additional donations. They have adequate funding for ALL of the personnel they have available.
Here in Indiana, our role is to function as a support. The crisis has affected these countries and will continue to affect them in ways that are only now beginning to surface. As emergency measures about public interaction have been put into place, such as the closing of almost all public facilities, including schools, offices, businesses, etc., food and fuel prices have rapidly escalated. Importation of essential food-stuffs has all but ceased. Public markets are shut down. Borders have been closed. Transportation even in-country has been severely restricted. Thus, the economies of the two countries are being decimated, and the hopeful progress of the last few years is being threatened.
Our role, beyond immediate relief through UMCOR, will be to provide stop-gap assistance to United Methodist medical facilities, schools and institutions to keep them functioning in the essential role of providing hope and faith in the mist of chaos and despair. The most optimistic predictions now are that it will take six to nine months to get the epidemic under control at which point our role will be to move into assistance with recovery.
Immediate financial assistance can be sent to the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church, directed (memo) to “Ebola Crisis Support.” Make checks payable to the Indiana Conference UMC and send to INUMC, Dept. 6089, Carol Stream, IL 60122.
Thank you for your generous contributions during this crisis time in West Africa.