MONROVIA, Liberia (Christian Examiner) – Did three days of prayer and fasting have anything to do with a decrease in the number of new Ebola cases in Liberia reported this week?
Only God knows.
But in July, more than 100 bishops, pastors and other leaders in the Liberia Council of Churches convened in Monrovia and determined that God sent Ebola to Liberia because of the sins of the nation, and called for prayer and fasting Aug. 6-8 and Oct. 29-31 to plea for God's mercy.
About 13,000 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola were reported in West Africa as of Nov. 5, with nearly 5,000 deaths. Liberia accounts for about half these cases, reporting 2,413 have died with 4,112 surviving infection according to the CDC.
Now local talk and official reports point to an apparent drop in Ebola cases not seen in other countries also in the virus hot zone.
The World Health Organization released a Nov. 5 situation report showing there have been only 19 new cases confirmed in Liberia during the last 21 days compared to 247 in Guinea and 1,160 in Sierra Leone.
Moreover, eyewitness accounts attest to the welcome phenomenon.
Sam Bropleh, chief ambulance driver with the District 13 First Responders Services, told Voice of America Oct. 21, his service has been receiving fewer calls recently to pick up patients.
"With the help of God and our hard work in this country, I can tell you Ebola cases now are going down on a daily basis. Sometimes, we receive only two or three calls a day, sometimes four calls. And that's all," he said.
Public health researcher Helen Epstein said the epidemic in Liberia, "supposed to be its epicenter, seems to be subsiding." In an Oct. 27 blog, Epstein contrasted the streets of Monrovia in August, "strewn with bodies" and emergency clinics turning away patients with the situation now where "nearly half of the beds in those treatment units are empty."
"I've been here a week and have yet to see a single body in the street," she said. "Funeral directors say business is off by half."
WHO reports there are fewer than four hundred Ebola patients total in Liberia today.
According to the Liberian Observer, Christian leaders reasoned in July that God was angry with Liberia, and that "Liberians have to pray and seek God's forgiveness over the corruption and immoral acts (such as homosexualism, etc.) that continue to penetrate our society. As Christians, we must repent and seek God's forgiveness," the leaders stated in their resolution.
There are no figures for the number of Christians who took part in the August prayer and fasting period, but according to the National Christian Task Force, at least one million believers – out of Liberia's total population of 4.2 million – participated in the Oct. 29-31 spiritual observance.
Some people sat alone with their Bibles on blanket-covered grass; some people danced and sang at city intersections; some, on the first two days, gathered in churches and other places of worship.
"On the third and final day of the fast and pray, churches and believers congregated at selected centers in each city, town and village in the country," according to an Africa Now news report. "After the event, a special thanksgiving service was held at various worship centers in Liberia on the first Sunday of November. All believers dressed in white t-shirts or white blouses on the last day."
Medical experts were cautious to share in the exuberance by Christians at the news of apparent answered prayers.
"The danger now is that we move, instead of a steady downward trend that gets us down to zero, that we end up with an oscillating pattern where the disease starts going up and down and areas start getting re-infected," said Bruce Aylward of WHO, according to CNN.
"Continued vigilance must be made in education and preventive measures," he added.