Ebola is responsible for the death of over 2,000 people in Sierra Leone. However, health officials claim that approximately 70 percent of new Ebola cases are the result of unsafe burials.
The Voice of America reports that traditional burial practices are being described as a major culprit in the spread of the deadly Ebola virus. In the hardest hit areas by the Ebola virus, burial is done in a very specific way to ensure the dead don’t come back to haunt the living. Unfortunately, the traditional burial practices also require a large number of people to physically touch the body.
“Unfortunately, these practices are the perfect breeding ground for Ebola, according the International Federation of the Red Cross. The bodies of Ebola victims can be up to 10 times more infectious than those of people living with the disease, the aid group said.”
The U.S. Center for Disease control notes that since the Ebola victims become more infectious once dead, the body is a hot bed for the disease. As people touch the body in the traditional burial process, they can become infected and carry the disease back to other mourners who did not actually touch the body. This, in turn, can create the disease clusters in the community.
Therefore, the Times Of India reports officials are spending a lot of time and resources educating the public on the importance of safe burial practices. In fact, some areas have gone to extreme measures and threatened to jail individuals who prepare the body for families if safe practices are not followed.
“Burial teams arriving at homes sometimes find the Ebola victims already washed or dressed. Now officials are warning that those who persist in traditional burial practices will be jailed once it’s clear they have not caught the disease.”
The safe burial campaigns have consisted of a number of political and celebrity figures in the area promoting a pledge to safe burial.
“The burial pledge is one more way to release families from the obligation of carrying out a traditional funeral. Some experts have also urged families to apologize to the corpse before handing it over for a safe burial, said Dr Nuhu Maksha, a health specialist with the UN Children’s Fund in Sierra Leone.”
Many are hoping that the families will understand and follow safe handling guidelines. Some family members are discussing the new burial pledges even before death. One Ebola patient specifically told family members to forgo traditional burial in a hopes no one else would be infected.