Angola Priests, Healers Preach Marburg Awareness

Luanda, Angola - Angolan priests urged their congregations Sunday to abandon their fear of hospitals so that loved ones could receive treatment for the Marburg virus that has killed more than 200 people.

Early in the outbreak, aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres, one of the only groups operating in the northern Uige Province, said poor infection control at the hospital there was to blame for some of the cases.

But the World Health Organization (WHO) says conditions have vastly improved, with a new isolation ward in place and all staff retrained to prevent the virus spreading.

Local bishops, priests, chieftains known as sobos and traditional African healers are joining health teams going to villages to boost understanding of the disease, still largely limited to the town of Uige itself, the WHO said.

Preachers made the appeals in churches Sunday.

"We are telling people that if they are ill -- particularly if they have a fever -- they must come to us," WHO spokesman Dave Daigle told Reuters by telephone from Uige. "Even if you get better, if you have Marburg there's a good chance you will infect your family."

Health workers say Marburg has killed 219 of the 240 people who contracted it in Uige Province, with scattered other cases occurring across the country among travelers returning from the infected area.

Officials worry that more victims are being hidden by families too scared to bring them to hospital.


"A lot of the time, we're finding bodies because people haven't been bringing their sick relatives in," Daigle said. Many of the victims are under the age of five.

Angry residents attacked WHO workers earlier in the outbreak of the viral hemorrhagic fever, accusing them of spreading the disease in a country whose infrastructure is still struggling to recover from one of Africa's longest running civil wars.

Health officials say they believe that all the victims contracted the disease in and around Uige and that it was not spreading through the rest of the country.

The disease, related to Ebola, is transmitted through bodily fluids including saliva and blood.

Many fear what could happen if the disease came into the capital Luanda, many of whose 4 million people live in decrepit apartment blocks or cramped slums that stretch miles inland from the South Atlantic beaches.

"People would be so scared if that happened," 19-year-old Felisbeteo Gil said outside a Luanda church service.

"There are people in my building who have been in Uige and people are scared of them. We must trust in God."