Sierra Leone week of prayer and fasting amid devastating Ebola crisis

Health workers carry the body of an Ebola virus victim in Kenema, Sierra Leone, June 25, 2014.Reuters/Umaru Fofana

The President of Sierra Leone has called upon his nation to pray and fast for a week to tackle the Ebola crisis devastating the country.

Some 20,000 people have been infected by the virus, with 2,700 dead in Sierra Leone alone.

President Ernest Bai Koroma declared a week of fasting and prayers to end suffering from the disease starting on Thursday, January 8.

"Today, I ask all to commit our actions to the grace, mercy and protection of God Almighty," he said in his New Year's Day address.

The World Health Organisation has said that while the Ebola outbreak is mostly confined to West Africa, the death toll has risen to 7,905, following 317 fatalities recorded since it last issued figures on December 24.

Sierra Leone accounts for the biggest proportion of Ebola cases - 9,000 - and the number of infections continues to grow, WHO said. Since December 24, new laboratory-confirmed cases in West Africa have reached 476, and 337 of them are in Sierra Leone.

Beyond the week-long fasting and prayers, Koroma announced that schools shut since July in a bid to slow down the spread of the virus will reopen soon.

"The ministry of education is putting in place modalities to reopen schools and colleges in the shortest possible time," Koroma was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Still, he urged people to avoid physical contact with the sick or corpses and abide by quarantine rules.

Christian Aid greeted the new year with a stern warning to the international community not to forget the plight of thousands of people affected by the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone.

The charity is currently training 500 religious leaders in eight districts of the country to deal with psycho-social counselling and stigma reduction in affected communities.

Jeanne Kamara, Christian Aid Country Manager in Sierra Leone, said it was also providing survivors with packages of food, household materials and hygiene items.

"Survivors need food and other support, such as the provision of basic household items, since those who are infected have all their belongings burnt leaving people in a desperate situation," she explained.

She spoke of her hope that a British nurse infected with Ebola, Pauline Cafferkey, would make a full recovery.

"We are very sorry to hear of the British nurse who has fallen victim to this indiscriminate virus," said Kamara. "At a time when the Ebola crisis appears to have fallen from the international news agenda, this sad incident reminds us that this disease does not recognise country boundaries and is continuing to infect more people every day."