Via NPR's Goats and Soda blog: Guinea's Grand Imam Pulls No Punches In His Ebola Message. Excerpt:
"Ebola — you have to do more," roars the barrel-bellied cleric El Hadj Mamadou Saliou Camara, with his white beard and mustache, in a snow-white boubou, the traditional flowing gown of West Africa.
That's the message he delivered over the weekend to hundreds of his fellow clerics, who gathered in Kindia, the third largest city in Guinea and a major crossroads. Many of the residents still blame Westerners for bringing the virus to their country.
His words are vital. Liberia and Sierra Leone look set to turn the corner in the battle against Ebola, but Guinea still faces challenges. Some people still hide Ebola sufferers at home. And 60 percent of Ebola cases in Guinea are related to unsafe, traditional burial rituals, the World Health Organization says.
So in Kindia, the country's leading Muslim cleric called on people to adopt safer funeral practices. Speaking in the local language, Soussou, he read them the riot act.
"There is nothing in the Koran that says you must wash, kiss or hold your dead loved ones," he told NPR after his speech. "I agree, tradition is important. But everyone must find a way to respect the dead and observe burial rites without putting themselves or anyone else in danger of catching Ebola."
It may not seem an obvious partnership, but the American ambassador to Guinea has linked up with the Grand Imam to fight Ebola. Alex Laskaris says outsiders alone won't stop the spread of the virus; the Grand Imam and other religious leaders must play a key role.
"One of the things I tell people about Guinea is the state is weak and has been weakened over time through poor management," says Laskaris.
"The society is very strong, and I think in contrast to Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the wars destroyed everything, the fabric of traditional leadership in Guinea, whether it's religious or customary, is really strong. And these guys get respect the old-fashioned way: by earning it. And so they are the ... leaders who you appeal to."