Zambia bans church services as it battles deadly cholera epidemic

Zambia has banned church services in parts of its capital city Lusaka, as the nation fights an epidemic of cholera.

The Zambian government announced at the weekend that all gatherings, including church services, were now banned in areas affected by the spread of cholera, according to The Tablet. The Zambian bishops' conference has followed suit to avoid potential disease spread by touch: there will be no handshake of peace in the areas where the Mass still takes place.

(Facebook/Zambia Watchdog)Thousands of people fill a stadium in Lusaka during a prayer meeting sponsored by the Church of Christ on March 5, 2017.

The Archdiocese of Lusaka has cancelled all its church-sponsored programmes, while its pastoral coordinator, Fr Thomas Banda, indefinitely banned handshakes at all gatherings and said church meetings should only take place if absolutely necessary. The Seventh Day Adventist Church has also cancelled meetings, advising worship from home instead.

The country has invoked military force to help curb the spread of cholera, which has already killed 57 and hospitalised more than 2,400. In the past decade, Zambia has seen more than 2,000 die from the disease. Two million doses of cholera vaccinations have been donated to the country by the UN Children's Fund.

On January 8 the Council of Churches in Zambia, Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, and Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a 'Statement of National Dialogue' lamenting the outbreak and condemning corruption and violence in the country.

It said: 'We pray for God's peace, comfort and encouragement during this time of national crisis. We pray for the various teams working on the ground to fight the cholera outbreak so that this may be overcome quickly and life may be restored to normal.'

The statement also addressed internal political tensions in Zambia.

'Despite the public pronouncements that Zambia is a peaceful country, the reality on the ground is different due to many acts of injustice, a growing culture of corruption, incidences of violence and utterances out of deep-seated hatred.'

Violence was victimising the nation's most vulnerable, the statement said, and 'hurts us Christians because we are essentially brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ who identifies himself with the same poor and the suffering'.