As Epidemic In Liberia Slows, Burying Bodies Remains A Challenge
ARUN RATH, HOST:
In West Africa, the Ebola virus has killed more than 5,000 people, but there have been many fewer funerals. The bodies of those who have died are so infectious they can only be handled safely by special burial teams. In Liberia, many of those teams are organized by the aid group Global Communities.
Piet deVries manages that organization's Liberian response. He joins us now. Mr. deVries, welcome to the program.
PIET DEVRIES: Thank you very much.
RATH: So first, can you give us a sense of the scale of the task at hand in Liberia right now? The latest report from the World Health Organization estimates the epidemic is growing more slowly. Did you see evidence to suggest that during your most recent trip?
DEVRIES: Yes, we became involved in response to Ebola in March. And there has been a flattening off in some of the most high infection areas and a significant decrease in the areas where Ebola first came into the country in Lofa County.
RATH: And you mentioned the spread of the disease across the country and the virus has now spread to every county. Can you talk about the challenges? I have to imagine that, in general, it's a different set of challenges in rural areas than in the cities.
DEVRIES: Absolutely. You know, the urban areas have their own challenges. But in the rural environment the roads are terrible, often, where a team leader will ride a motorcycle out as far as he can get, where there is a trained burial team who will then walk from five to seven hours to reach remote communities that have been infected by the disease and conduct safe burials there and then walk back out again. So it's very complicated logistics. And we have a lot of dedicated people who are making an enormous effort.
RATH: How have people changed the way they say goodbye to the deceased?
DEVRIES: In the early days of the response, there was an enormous amount of fear and resistance, actually, to safe-burial teams engaging with taking deceased from families. So we engaged community and a lot of dialogue and awareness.
And once that's happened, people have opened up. And we have then, in turn, turned around to them and invited them back into the process, not in a hands-on way but allowing them to be a part of the service at a distance so that they feel a connection to the burial of their loved ones.
RATH: The Ministry of Health has ordered that, in Monrovia at least, people must now cremate their dead. And there was a huge outcry among the public. Is there any concern that that could lead to people, you know, hiding the sick and those who have died not wanting them to be disposed of in that way?
DEVRIES: So that is a huge current issue. And there have been people who have been avoiding cremation for their loved ones. And there has been a lot of resistance. And we have been working actively with the Ministry of Health and other agencies within the Liberian government to find appropriate land for safe burial for Monrovia. And I would say we are within seven to 10 days of being able to make the shift from cremation to safe burial. And I think it will really curtail any illegal burials and undermining of the Ebola-response effort.
RATH: Piet deVries manages the Liberia response for the aid group Global Communities. Mr. deVries, thanks very much.
DEVRIES: Thank you.
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