WASHINGTON — A Catholic priest from Sierra Leone asked for prayers for West African countries affected by Ebola.

"Ebola disease is highly contagious. We need solidarity (to survive it)," said Father Peter Konteh, executive director of Caritas for the Archdiocese of Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Father Konteh spoke to Catholic News Service while in Washington with representatives of the Healey International Relief Foundation, based in Sierra Leone. Caritas works in partnership with the foundation, which has focused on improving the quality of life in war-torn Third World countries by providing medical assistance, health care education, and basic essentials for orphaned children.

Ebola disease, formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is one of the world's most virulent viruses, with a fatality rate of up to 90 percent, according to the World Health Organization, which notes there is no effective vaccine at this time.

This virus has spread through Guinea to other West African countries, including Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The World Health Organization said that by mid-June, Guinea had nearly 400 reported cases and 264 deaths.

The infection is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected animals or people. It causes bleeding inside and outside the body.

"We are providing a sanitization drive now," said Ishmael Alfred Charles, the in-country executive director of the Healy Foundation. "That is the most we can do."

Meredith Dyson, a health program manager in Sierra Leone, has been overseeing Catholic Relief Services' response since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak in the region in March. CRS, the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency and part of the Caritas network, has been working closely with Sierra Leone's National Ebola Task Force on awareness-raising campaigns, using radio, meetings with community leaders, and other mediums to disseminate critical messages about prevention, transmission and treatment of the disease.

Dyson said a major barrier to containing the outbreak in Sierra Leone has been a distrust of the formal health system and a lack of awareness.

"Many people in Sierra Leone hold traditional beliefs or don't trust the formal health system because they don't have access to relevant information or are hearing misinformation about disease prevention, transmission and treatment," she said in a story posted on the CRS website.

"Many people are afraid because they have heard that there is no cure for Ebola, so they prefer to take care of family members at home or seek traditional remedies, which puts their families and communities at further risk. But hospitals can provide supportive treatment and symptom management that significantly improves their chances of survival and helps contain transmission."

She said CRS has "the advantage of having close ties with communities across the country and local staff who know the culture and belief system, and who can identify potential problems and raise awareness about the disease. There needs to be a lot more outreach so people can understand the medical issue and the outbreak can be contained."