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Monday, Sept. 15, 2014

As churches take measures to prevent Ebola, traditional healers ply herbs

By Fredrick Nzwili, Religion News Service

Published: Sun, Aug. 24 6:35 a.m. MDT

 In this Aug. 14, 2014 photo, a unique strain of tobacco plant grows at Medicago USA, Inc. in Research Triangle Park, N.C. The Virus-Like-Particle plant-based vaccine facility is capable of producing millions of doses of vaccines per month. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

In this Aug. 14, 2014 photo, a unique strain of tobacco plant grows at Medicago USA, Inc. in Research Triangle Park, N.C. The Virus-Like-Particle plant-based vaccine facility is capable of producing millions of doses of vaccines per month. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

(Gerry Broome, AP)

NAIROBI, Kenya — As the Ebola outbreak widens, churches in Africa have begun issuing new guidelines to prevent infection even as traditional healers continue to ply their herbs.

In Nigeria, Roman Catholics have begun giving Communion wafers in the palm of the hand rather than on the tongue.

Across West Africa, hand-washing buckets with soap and chlorine are strategically stationed at the entrances to worship centers.

Ushers have been asked to don gloves as they collect and count offerings. And many people are reluctant to give hugs or shake hands.

The epidemic has killed more than 1,200 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, according to the World Health Organization.

But now churches and mosques are battling a new enemy: superstition.

Traditional healers or herbalists outnumber biomedical workers in rural areas, according to the WHO. These healers use ritual and herbal remedies to treat people in areas where suspicion of modern medicine persists. They have been in demand in West Africa since the outbreak began.

In the eastern district of Kailahun in Sierra Leone, Mamie Lebbie, a traditional herbalist, claimed special powers to cure Ebola and attracted a multitude from Guinea, according to Ebun James–Dekam, general secretary of the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone.

Lebbie became the first woman to be infected in Sierra Leone and to die. At her funeral, mourners came from all corners to pay their respects, touching her body and those of their healthy colleagues, leading to a chain of infections.

“Rural communities initially viewed this disease as witchcraft and took their sick relatives to traditional healers, while others administered herbs,” said Bishop Sumoward Harris, a retired bishop of the Lutheran Church in Liberia.

Now, governments and religious groups are turning to healers to spread the word that there is no cure for the disease.

James–Dekam said churches in Sierra Leone that are part of the Council of Churches, an umbrella group of 20 denominations, are leading education and sensitization efforts among the communities.

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1. Hutterite
American Fork, UT,
Aug. 24, 2014

Maybe we should stick with science instead of superstition.

2. sally
Kearns, UT,
Aug. 24, 2014

When a child of ours was diagnosed with cancer, we were flooded with multi-level marketers selling their concoctions and herbs. We had so many other things to deal with, it was the last thing we needed at the time.

3. JoeBlow
Far East USA, SC,
Aug. 25, 2014

I have no doubt that some herbal supplements have merit. But many dont.

This industry should not be allowed to make completely unsubstantiated claims.

Thanks in large part to Orrin Hatch.

4. Gildas
LOGAN, UT,
Aug. 25, 2014

Apparently the majority of our medicines are made from herbs or their extracts. The rest? Penicillin, for example, is made from mould and aspirin from a tree bark. We might be a bit less haughty in dismissing all herbal remedies as superstitions, and promoting every new drug as a "medical breakthrough" etc. Thalydomide was hardly a modern marvel as administered to the optimistic, science- believing, mothers and their affected children. Other drugs and modern medical procedures have caused severe problems and attendant law suits. Today's 'modern miracle' may be tomorrow's superstitition or barbarity.

5. JoeBlow
Far East USA, SC,
Aug. 25, 2014

I doubt that anyone would "dismiss all herbal remedies as superstitions".

But, oftentimes, the claims made are totally bogus and unsubstantiated by any medical or scientific information.

I have no problem is someone wants to eat volcanic ash.

But no one should be able to advertise that it cures cancer unless there is something credible to back it up.