Brazil’s churches respond to Zika virus through Lent campaign

The Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil has joined with other churches in the country to raise awareness of the Zika virus and promote preventative measures through an ecumenical Lenten campaign for a healthy environment.

The campaign “Care for our Common Home” lifts up the right to clean water and sanitation in Brazil, a significant economy but with great inequality and severe gaps in basic services and environmental standards. The mosquito which transmits the Zika virus is able to breed where there pools of water left standing in the environment.

“CONIC’s [National Council of Christian Churches in Brazil] mission is to strengthen the ‘ecumenism of service and justice’. This international ecumenical Lenten Campaign can help to achieve that, so the struggle to prevent diseases and the spread of the mosquito in this period is essential,” Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil (IEAB) Bishop Flavio Irala, President of CONIC, has said.

Care for Our Common Home is rooted in the biblical text calling for justice to “roll down like waters” and righteousness “like an ever flowing stream”. (Amos 5:24) CONIC coordinates the campaign, which links churches with faith based organisations and social movements.

The Zika virus is spreading rapidly and has now been detected in at least 23 countries across the Americas, leading the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare a global public health emergency.

The virus is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito. Pregnant women are at particular risk due to a suspected link between the Zika virus and microcephaly in babies, a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age. According to WHO, if microcephaly is combined with poor brain growth, developmental disabilities may result. Around 4000 babies have been born with microcephaly in Brazil since October 2015.

WHO is advising in particular women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant to take measures to protect themselves from mosquito bites.

The need for proper sanitation is also critical. According to the WHO, any amount of standing water is a potential mosquito breeding site and needs to be cleaned, emptied, covered, or otherwise treated. This is a particular challenge in urban areas, where poor sanitation leaves pools of water hidden in waste grounds and amongst refuse.

For IEAB, the current Zika crisis is a key moment to promote community action and advocate for a strong governmental response to ensure sustainable and just living conditions.

“Half of the population of Brazil has no access to sanitation and a great number have no clean water. The outbreak of Zika is an example of the neglectful situation in which our people live. All of this can be overcome with education, mobilisation and public policies that take into consideration the preservation of the environment,” noted IEAB Primate Archbishop Francisco de Assis da Silva in lending his support to the Lenten Campaign.

The Anglican Alliance welcomes the IEAB’s engagement in “Care for Our Common Home”.

“Access to health care and proper sanitation, such as safe water, sewage treatment and garbage collection, are targets of the new Sustainable Development Goals and fundamental elements for communities to live in health and dignity,” said Anglican Alliance Co-Executive Director the Revd Rachel Carnegie.

The Anglican Alliance will continue to monitor the situation of the Zika public health emergency, highlight advice from the WHO and share examples of responses within the Anglican Communion.

 “With its presence in every community, the churches have a key role to play in raising awareness on prevention of the Zika virus, as well as advocating with governments on water and sanitation issues,” she said.

On behalf of the churches in Brazil, Rachel asked members of the Communion to remember in prayer families who have been affected by this public health emergency or are living in anxiety. “Pray that they will receive care and support at this time.”

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