Church mourns doctor’s death, continues Ebola fight

November 17, 2014

By: Christa Meland

As the United Methodist Church continues to respond to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, people throughout the denomination and the world are expressing deep sadness over the death of a doctor who contracted Ebola while working at a United Methodist hospital in Sierra Leone.

Dr. Martin Salia, who was the chief medical officer and only surgeon at United Methodist Kissy Hospital, died early Monday after he was airlifted to the United States for treatment.

“We mourn the death of Dr. Martin Salia along with the rest of the global community,” said Dakotas-Minnesota Area Bishop Bruce R. Ough. “We are grateful to God for his sacrificial service in caring for the people of Sierra Leone.”

Sierra Leone Bishop John K. Yambasu told United Methodist News Service that Salia “was everything to us” and was one of only a very few surgeons in the country. “Scripture abounds in calling us to give thanksgiving in all situations, but sometimes it is hard,” he said. “We are all in prayer for his wife and children.”

Kissy was shut down Nov. 11 as soon as staff received word that Salia had tested positive for Ebola, and Kissy’s 91 staff members are under home quarantine for several weeks. Kissy is not an Ebola center, and Salia didn’t knowingly treat any Ebola patients. But Yambasu said many people who come into hospitals think they have other diseases and aren’t aware that they are Ebola-positive. Salia quarantined himself as soon as he began feeling ill, around Nov. 4. He tested negative for the disease on Nov. 7 and then tested positive three days later.

Nebraska Medical Center is one of four U.S. centers designated to treat Ebola patients. Salia arrived there Saturday in critical condition—but the virus had progressed too far for him to be saved.

The world mourns

Salia’s courageous service and tragic death have been reported by mainstream media across the globe, and United Methodist Communications in Nashville has been instrumental in providing information for such reports. On Monday, the White House issued a statement expressing condolences to Salia’s family and loved ones.

“Dr. Salia dedicated his life to saving others,” the statement said. “He viewed this vocation as his calling, telling his fellow United Methodist Church members that he pursued medicine not because he wanted to, but because he firmly believed it was God’s will for him. Dr. Salia’s passing is another reminder of the human toll of this disease and of the continued imperative to tackle this epidemic on the frontlines, where Dr. Salia was engaged in his calling.”

Salia told United Methodist Communications earlier this year that he knew his job at Kissy wouldn’t be easy but he believes God wanted him to do it and he knew the people of Freetown needed help.

The deadly Ebola virus has claimed lives in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 14,400 cases have been reported, and the death toll has exceeded 5,000. The World Health Organization said 570 health care workers have been infected, and 324 of them have died.

The United Methodist Church responds

The United Methodist Church continues to respond to the Ebola crisis, and the church effort involves treatment, prevention, communication, and public education. Forty percent of the health care in Africa is provided by church-related clinics and hospitals, including the United Methodist Church’s extensive network of medical facilities and services.The United Methodist Church’s efforts are possible because of the global partnerships and networks that the denomination has in place.

On Nov. 7, the Council of Bishops and the General Board of Global Ministries issued a letter to the people of the United Methodist Church, urging them to “offer compassion to our sisters and brothers who are suffering, and support to those who walk with them.”

The letter acknowledges that fear is understandable in the face of Ebola but says it sometimes “leads to unnecessary stigmatization of any persons from or believed to be from those countries or even coming from other parts of Africa.” The leaders urge United Methodists to “be realistic and diligent in confronting fear and stigma,” noting that accurate information that “increases understanding and decreases stigma is a matter of urgency, justice, and fairness for all members of our human family.”

What you can do

Every United Methodist can help in the fight against Ebola. Here’s how Minnesota United Methodists can assist:

  • ?Lift up in prayer the people who live under the fear of Ebola, the families of those who have died, and the health professionals who are caring for people who have this disease. 
  • ?Extend your generosity to support UMCOR’s International Disaster Relief Advance #982450, which is being used for the Ebola emergency response plan.
  • ?Keep your congregation informed about the Ebola crisis while urging compassion rather than stigmatization for our African brothers and sisters in Christ.

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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