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A text message regarding the Ebola outbreak is sent via mobile technology from Bishop John G. Innis to 20 United Methodist district superintendents in Liberia. Transmitting the message from United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn., are (left) Jill Costello, project manager, and the Rev. Neelley Hicks, director, ICT4D Church Initiative.

UMCOM/KATHLEEN BARRY

A text message regarding the Ebola outbreak is sent via mobile technology from Bishop John G. Innis to 20 United Methodist district superintendents in Liberia. Transmitting the message from United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn., are (left) Jill Costello, project manager, and the Rev. Neelley Hicks, director, ICT4D Church Initiative.

Communications vital in Ebola fight

On Aug. 8, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa an international health emergency.

Since then, communicating vital health information has been of utmost importance. Sending medical updates and information on how to prevent the spread of the disease also combats erroneous word-of-mouth reports of folk remedies and beliefs that the outbreak is some sort of punishment from God.

The United Methodist Church is implementing a communications strategy aimed at saving lives and reassuring people of God's presence. The effort began when cases of the virus surfaced in Sierra Leone in June, after the initial outbreak in neighboring Guinea. Church officials in Sierra Leone and, soon afterward, Liberia began spreading the word about how to fight the disease.

Despite those initial efforts, governments in the affected countries were slow to mount a serious response. A lack of information and education in local communities, compounded by distrust and denial, exacerbated the problem. That allowed the virus to explode and claim more than 1,550 (as of late August) lives in four countries.

Responding to the need for information, United Methodist Communications is working with bishops in Sierra Leone and Liberia and has been in contact with others in Nigeria and Côte d'Ivoire.

Sierra Leone and Liberia are each receiving a $10,000 crisis communications grant from United Methodist Communications. Funds will be used for banners, posters, radio spots and data access through mobile carriers for sharing health and pastoral messages.

The agency is also working with partners that can provide the means for mass mobile texting across regions where infrastructure might be minimal. In addition, through voice-based mobile technology, messages can be shared with people who are illiterate.

"In the Ebola crisis, communication precedes prevention and treatment," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, general secretary of United Methodist Communications, in a blog post. "The contagion cannot be contained without greater effort at sanitation, isolation of sick people, and proper handling and burial of the deceased. And this has to be communicated effectively and widely. In these circumstances, a clear message saves lives."

Adapted from a United Methodist News Service story by Kathy L. Gilbert, multimedia reporter at United Methodist Communications.

Sharing lifesaving information

The Foundation for United Methodist Communications has established an emergency communications fund for providing support in crises and disasters, including the Ebola outbreak. Make tax-deductible contributions online at www.umc.org/ebola (click on the donation link on the right side) or send gifts to The Foundation for United Methodist Communications, P.O. Box 440228, Nashville, TN 37244-0228.

The church responds to Ebola

The United Methodist Church and its partners are mounting a multifaceted response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Visit www.umc.org/ebola for complete and continuing coverage.

Ebola video funded

United Methodist Communications has collaborated with Chocolate Moose Media to produce an animated video short to promote prevention of Ebola and to help dispel local myths that have sprung up around it.

Chocolate Moose has created other award-winning animated campaigns addressing domestic violence, HIV/AIDS and malaria. The two- to four-minute video will target those who live in areas worst stricken by the disease. At Interpreter deadline, the video was to launch by Sept. 1. It will be published to YouTube and available for free download.