An emotional farewell ceremony has been held for those considered as the true heroes, whose tremendous efforts in the national response against the Ebola Virus Disease have put the country on the verge of being declared Ebola free.
The Liberian National Red Cross Society (LNRCS) also officially handed back responsibility for safe and dignified burials in Montserrado County to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare during the ceremony.
More than 150 trained volunteers worked on the frontline of safe and dignified burials, demonstrating professionalism, courage and compassion as they carried out their work in one of the most challenging but critically important areas of the response. The swift and safe removal and burial of the highly infectious Ebola dead from communities was instrumental in stopping the spread of the deadly virus,
During a well-attended ceremony held last Thursday at the headquarters of the Safe and Dignified Burial (SDB) service in Sinkor, the volunteers were honored for their invaluable services to the national response.
They received tributes and commendation from officials of government and partners who described them as true heroes of the battle against the virus.
The secretary general of the Red Cross, Fayiah Tamba, said the Red Cross is confident that the ministry and its partner organizations are well equipped to continue the service.
“The dedication of our volunteers cannot be overstated. Despite their heroism, they have been unfairly stigmatized in the community. This is so heart-breaking because without them, who knows how much worse this crisis could have been,” Mr. Tamba said.
Many of the volunteers told the Daily Observer that although the task was risky and tedious they accepted to serve their country.
George Wanbah said, “Nobody could have done it for us if we had not risen up to do it. People will not come from other countries and pick up bodies for us. “That’s why we saw the need, and although some of our own people went against us, threatening and insulting us, we stood firm because we felt we were doing the right thing to save all of us and our country.”
The supervisor of the Safe and Dignified Burial (SDB) team, Roslyn Nugba-Ballah, said the collection of Ebola dead was one of the most challenging tasks during the outbreak. Although overwhelmed during the initial stage of the outbreak, she noted that the Red Cross redoubled its efforts and lived up to expectations, receiving commendations from many local and international organizations for their level of work.
“We were at the forefront taking all of the necessary risks in carrying out a task that no one, even the most trained specialist that came under the banners of the World Health Organization, Medicin Sans Frontiere and other medical institutions, dared to do,” she said.
The dead body management crew started with three teams of seven members each and later increased to five teams. Due to the demand through calls from communities the teams increased to twelve with 150 members.
From April 27, 2014 to April 29, 2015 the team collected 3,684 dead bodies from Montserrado and its surroundings. Of the total dead bodies 2,711 were cremated and 611 were safely buried while 335 were taken to funeral homes. The SDB team recommended that a department of infectious and preventative control must be established.
Meanwhile, to support its volunteers returning to their normal lives, LNRCS is providing a severance package which includes remuneration, access to scholarships and a livelihood grants program as well as therapeutic sessions to address stigma and any trauma resulting from their work.