Ebola burial teams in Sierra Leone can’t keep up with the rising number of dead, and some bodies are left to decompose at home for days as test results for the virus are slow to arrive.
“We are overwhelmed as we bury between 20 to 30 corpses a day,” Sas Kargbo, head coordinator for Sierra Leone’s burial teams, said in an interview in the capital, Freetown. “We want capacity to determine the cause of death in 24 hours so that those who did not die of Ebola will be buried with dignity.”
President Ernest Bai Koroma on Aug. 7 ordered that corpses can’t be buried without the Ministry of Health’s authorization. The measure was meant to stop the virus from spreading by preventing people from organizing funerals for relatives. The virus is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected patient, including a deceased person, according to the World Health Organization.
Almost 500 people have died of Ebola in Sierra Leone, while at least 1,600 have contracted the disease, according to the WHO. More than 200 new cases were reported in the past week, the WHO said today. Local funeral practices have contributed to the spread of the virus in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The epidemic has killed about half of the 5,000 people who’ve been infected, and the WHO has warned that infections may not have peaked.
U.S. President Barack Obama announced the deployment of about 3,000 military personnel in West Africa to help stem the worst outbreak of Ebola in history. They’ll help ship and distribute medical equipment, sanitation kits and body bags and will assist in building as many as 20, 100-bed treatment centers and training about 500 health-care providers in the region.
The United Nations Security Council is set to hold an emergency meeting on Ebola today.
The U.K. is providing 700 beds and its military will contribute logistics and engineering assistance, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. China plans to send a mobile laboratory and 59 medical staff to Sierra Leone next week, a statement posted on the website of the Chinese Embassy on Sept. 14 shows.
The Ebola outbreak took hold in Sierra Leone at the burial of a traditional healer who had come from neighboring Guinea, according to a study in the Science journal last month.
Kargbo’s team has trained 26 motorbike riders to collect blood samples from corpses across the city and take them to the only laboratory in Freetown that can test for Ebola.
The laboratory is one of three facilities testing for the virus, while the other two are in the northeastern provinces of Kailahun and Kenema.
Sierra Leone’s government will impose a three-day curfew from Sept. 19 to force people to stay at home in an attempt to contain the virus.
Calls to a special Ebola hotline set up by the burial department are sometimes left unanswered because the teams are occupied burying the dead, Kargbo said.
The government this month increased the number of 10-member burial teams in Freetown to eight, from three. Each member receives a weekly pay of 500,000 leones ($116).
The teams include men who worked as grave diggers before the outbreak, Kargbo said. No members of the burial teams have been infected with Ebola, he said.
In some cases, test results take so long to arrive that people who haven’t contracted the virus are registered as Ebola victims and buried because the stench becomes unbearable, Kargbo said.
“Sometimes people who died of other diseases are buried as Ebola victims before their test results are out,” he said.