News September 05, 2014 at 01:29 pm

Sierra Leone Ebola Burial Teams Face Extreme Danger But Persevere

D.L. Chandler | Contributor, F2FA

D.L. Chandler September 05, 2014 at 01:29 pm

September 05, 2014 at 01:29 pm | News

Ebola burial workers

The spread of Ebola in the West African region has been devastating. With the numbers of victims succumbing to the virus rising rapidly, the country of Sierra Leone has employed roving burial teams who risk their lives to handle the dead bodies and hopefully curtail spread of the disease.

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These workers, also known as the “burial boys,” who don protective suits to carry out the burials, are paid just $100 per month. With fear and misunderstanding carrying over in to the region, these teams are working against time as the virus is outpacing efforts to combat the spread. This group of brave men have put their dreams on hold as they try to stave off the crisis that has rocked their country.

Ebola burial workers

Sierra Leonese burial team members are disinfected after loading the bodies of Ebola victims onto a truck at the Médecins sans Frontières facility in Kailahun. Photograph: Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty Images

The Guardian writes:

In desperation, 20 young men signed up for the burial teams, each paid $100 (£61) a month for the task. “Hunger is killing more people than Ebola,” said Abraham Kamara, 21, a fellow digger. They work to rigorous standards enforced by the Red Cross, but pay a heavy price.

“When I’m passing, people I know say, ‘don’t come near me’!” Jusson said. He looked skyward for a moment before continuing: “I try to explain to them. If we don’t volunteer to do this, there’ll be nobody to bury the dead bodies because all of us will be infected.”

The burial team’s battle for acceptance is a reflection of a wider struggle. Amid fear, confusion and conflicting public health messages surrounding West Africa’s first recorded encounter with Ebola, Kailahun and its surrounding chiefdoms must make decisions that will be vindicated by time or become tragic missteps.

Ebola burial workers

Medical staff working with Médecins sans Frontières put on their protective gear before entering an isolation area at the Ebola treatment centre in Kailahun. Photograph: Reuters

The suits keep workers like Alfred Jusson and others safe as they’re working to bury the dead, but there is still danger of contracting the disease when they remove their suits. Ebola is spread via bodily fluids, and there is extreme risks involved at all times.

The Guardian reports:

As they scour villages deep in the tropical forests, the burial team rely on spaceman-like suits for protection. If a bag of flour were poured over them, the suits should prevent even one grain touching their skin. But once the job is done, these very suits become a danger – they have to be removed without a grain of that flour getting on them.

Which makes the young men’s efforts all the more heroic.

One of the workers, Andrew Neyuma, just 17 years old, said about his work, “I want to kick Ebola out of this country. Our population is already very small and Ebola wants to reduce it? No way!” Still, workers, such as Jusson, face push-back not just from the public but also from concerned family members.

On one day on his way to work, Jusson found himself running late, because his mother tried to get him to quit, “Forget about this job,” she had pleaded. “Qualified doctors and nurses have been dying. So who are you, that you think you’re not going to die if you’re doing this?”

“The truth is, no one in [the capital] Freetown wanted to come here and do this job,” said Daniel James, the Red Cross team leader in Kailahun.”Eventually my colleagues said, ‘You’re from Kailahun, you go.'”

While many of the nation’s residents are shunning the Red Cross workers, others are accepting of their efforts and are reaching out to them to find methods to combat the Ebola spread.

Since March, Ebola has claimed more than 1,900 lives, and the World Health Organization predicts that about 18,000 more people could be infected before the virus is contained.

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