The Liberian government has announced that it will allow families to bury Ebola victims in a special plot of land instead of requiring the cremated of the dead, as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.
The corpses of Ebola victims are highly contagious, and many of those who washed or touched bodies before their burials contracted the disease.
The government said that the Ebola Virus Disease had become hard to contain in all parts of the country because some Liberians do not want the bodies of their relatives and friends who had fallen prey to the virus, to be burnt (cremated). It is against this backdrop that the government, through the Traditional Council of Liberia, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and a United States based non-governmental organization, Global Communities, acquired a 25-acre parcel of land, which is now ready for use as a national cemetery.
The land, which was officially opened by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recently, is situated behind the Disco Hill Community, Margibi County, along the Robertsfield Highway.
The locals priced the land at US$50,000 which government agreed to pay with an initial installment of US$25,000. GOL has committed to make the final payment once a Memorandum of Understanding is reached with the people of Disco Hill Community.
Global Communities is responsible to manage the site to ensure that Ebola bodies are buried properly.
Touring the facilities, Mr. Matt Ward, Ebola Response Coordinator, said the new burial site has already received 73 corpses, most of them male Christians.
According to him, the new burial site will enable relatives and loved ones to identify the graves of Ebola victims, a benefit they have yearned for over cremation.
The site is divided into two sections: for Christians and Muslims, respectively. With the help of safe burial teams, followers of these faiths will practice their rituals and ensure that their fallen beloved receive dignified and safe burials.
Mr. Ward said victims will be identified by tombstones and relatives, friends, as well as pastors and imams will be allowed to perform burial rites at the site, though void of touching.
Other people who might want to bury their loved ones there can do so, as the new cemetery is not for Ebola victims only, but anyone can be buried there. “This will become a national cemetery so that people will not hide dead bodies for fear of cremation,” he stressed.
Speaking at a program organized for the opening of the cemetery, the Minister of Health, Dr. Walter Gwenigale, who was welcomed on stage by traditional leaders with kola nuts, told them (traditional leaders) that their request had been granted by the Government of Liberia.
The Minister maintained that with this new site being opened, “we urge you to do away with secret burials. Ebola is still here, so burying Ebola body will also help us to eradicate the virus from the country.
Chief Boakai Zulu, who spoke on behalf of Chief Zarzar Karwor, lauded the Government of Liberia and its international partners for listening to their plight.
According to him, Cremation of dead bodies is not and should not be part of the Liberian culture. “So, with this new site,” the chief said, “we want to say to government thank you because burning of a dead body is not of our culture.”
Meanwhile, the occasion brought together traditional leaders from the 15 counties, civil society, officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as well as officials of government to brainstorm the naming of the new cemetery as well as a possible monument dedicated to Ebola victims.