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    Posted January 12, 2015 by
    WorldVision1
    Location
    Sierra Leone
    Assignment
    Assignment
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    On the front lines of Ebola

    More from WorldVision1

    In the midst of Ebola, helping to make sure burials are safe and dignified

     

    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     As the friends and family wept as an Ebola victim was laid to rest in Moyamba District, Sierra Leone, a trained burial team in Hazmat suits appeared. Since the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, burial practices have had to change dramatically to prevent the disease from spreading, says World Vision communications manager Jonathan Bundu, a native of Sierra Leone.

    “Funerals have always been an integral part of culture in Sierra Leone,” Bundu said. “People traditionally mourn their loved ones in lavish ceremonies with lots of singing and dancing and touching and kissing."

    Bundu was at Betty Thomas’ funeral in November 2014, which he captured on camera, with the family’s permission. He said he felt “joy and despondency. Joy because families can now have to see their loved ones buried with dignity as compared to the early stages of the crisis when corpses were just put in plastic bags and buried and no last prayers of sending the dead away and graves were not marked. Being despondent as for the past three days I have witnessed over 15 safe and dignified burials.”

    See the latest on the Ebola outbeak from the CDC
    - zdan, CNN iReport producer

    As I stood alongside the relatives and friends of Betty Thomas to watch her body being brought out by a newly trained burial team, a feeling of peace and calm descended upon me. I even felt a sense of joy in my heart, which may seem strange given the circumstances. You see, Betty’s funeral was so quiet and dignified compared with many others during this most terrible of crises. Ebola victims’ funerals have all too often descended into anarchy and chaos, so although the atmosphere here was sad, I felt that Betty could now journey in peace to her maker and her family could be pleased with the safe and dignified way their sister was celebrated.

    Since the outbreak of Ebola, funeral practices in Sierra Leone have had to change radically to prevent further contagion.

    Funerals have always been an integral part of culture in Sierra Leone. People traditionally mourn their loved ones in lavish ceremonies with lots of singing and dancing and touching and kissing. For Muslims it is important to bury the body the same day and to wash it before so the corpse is clean before meeting its maker.

    Ebola has changed all this. Since the outbreak of Ebola, funeral practices in Sierra Leone have had to change radically to prevent further contagion. Funerals became chaotic and antagonistic as mourners were obliged to report any deaths to a toll free line, and then had to wait for days before the victim could be carted away in a black plastic bag. And the waiting only increased the risk of contagion as the body decomposed in the heat.

    The aid organization World Vision stepped into this scenario with the help of other non-profits to educate and co-ordinate the burial teams in six districts. A call center was set up first and eight-man burial teams were quickly dispatched to swab the victim and any surviving family members, to determine whether the death was an Ebola death or not. Next World Vision began training up the burial teams on how to collect the dead bodies in a safe way, how to engage with the family members to explain the burial team’s role, and on how to have a short funeral ceremony where an Imam or Pastor will offer prayers before the dead are removed for burial. The family have the right to follow the team and know where their loved ones are buried. World Vision began training burial teams on how to collect dead bodies in a safe way and on how to have a short funeral ceremony.

    Thanks to proper training by World Vision, people are beginning to understand why they need to change the way they bury their loved ones. They now know that it is in death when the risk of contagion is greatest. Now the burial teams wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and spray the body with chlorine. Instead of touching and kissing the body, family members have been trained to stand 15 meters away and watch as a priest conducts a short service to honor the deceased.

    So it was with great satisfaction that I observed the putting into practice of what has been learned at the funeral of 42-year-old Betty Thomas. The team arrived, put on their PPEs, which takes 10-15 minutes. The corpse was handled and sprayed by four team members. All members are continually sprayed with chlorine throughout proceedings and again after swabs have been taken. When ready, the body is brought out into the open for a short ceremony.

    Betty leaves behind two teenage sons, but I know, although they are very sad, they are also pleased with the dignified and safe burial of their dear mother.
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