Safe and dignified burial of Ebola victims


...Red Cross Society excels

DECEMBER 3, 2014 By Mohamed Massaquoi 

On Sunday (30 November) the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society (SLRS) burial team was at Maxwell Street, east of Freetown, to collect the remains of Fatmata Bangura, 21, though her death was yet to be related to Ebola. The team met somber relatives and friends who listened quietly as the team leader explained the burial process.

Mustapha Rogers, the Bencom officer, said bodies of those who have died from Ebola carry high concentration of the virus that can spread to others through contact. Family members and friends who follow the local practice of washing and preparing their loved ones’ bodies for burial are at high risk of contracting the disease, the reason the Red Cross team has been engaging families and friends of victims to explain to them safe and dignified burial procedures for people who die from Ebola, as a key to preventing the spread of the disease, Rogers told the gloomy faced family and friends of the deceased. He noted that the Red Cross is not responsible for testing for Ebola but to rather take care of the dead.

“Ebola infections have occurred during burial preparation when family and community members perform religious rites that require directly touching or washing the body, which still contains high levels of the Ebola virus. Personal property of the person who has died may also transmit the virus; we are asking that family members or community people maintain the protocols from health workers, this can help us to control the spread of the disease,” said Mr. Rogers.

“We also sympathize with the family but at the same time you should allow the burial team to perform their duties, this is unusual but because of the outbreak we have to work very hard to ensure that our communities are safe. If this young woman was a Muslim, you can invite an Imam to pray for her or a Christian, a pastor can do the same. The Red Cross will give the opportunity to five members of the family to follow us to the graveyard in order to give final respect to their loved ones.”

Then the team put on protective gear – lasting 10 to 15 minutes – with each member putting on three pairs of gloves, before they wrapped and removed Bangura’s body from her home, while also spraying disinfectant.

A family member, Usman Bangura, said he would love to give his final respect to his sister by touching her body, but the team politely refused to grant him his wish because of the high risk. “I want to encourage Sierra Leoneans to maintain the rules and regulations,” he said afterward in full agreement with the team that touching dead bodies can help transmit the virus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) last month unveiled a new protocol for safe and dignified burials of victims of the Ebola virus, emphasizing the inclusion of family members and encouraging religious rites as an essential part of the burial process.

The updated protocol outlined step-by-step processes for safe and dignified burials, encouraging family and local clergy to take part in the planning and preparation of the burial, as well as at the burial event itself, according to Muslim and Christian funeral traditions.

The protocol also recommends ways for Ebola burial teams to carry out their work safely while respecting family sensitivities, which included wearing personal protective equipment when coming in contact with the family, and asking the latter about any specific requests for managing the burial and personal effects of the deceased.