We carried on Monday a very sad, disturbing story about two decomposing Ebola bodies in Weala, Margibi County, that have had a traumatic effect on the town and its inhabitants. The deceased, members of the Tate family, had been dead for well over a week and all attempts to get Health workers there to remove the bodies have proved unsuccessful.
This terrible episode has forced inhabitants of the neighborhood to flee the area, becoming displaced persons in their own town.
Only last Tuesday, August 5—coincidentally the very day the Tates died—we published an editorial calling on government to return to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare its professional responsibility for burying the Ebola dead. We argued that caring for the dead is not a political function relegated to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), as suggested by Health Minister Walter Gwenigale, but rather a medical and scientific function that often involves a medical doctor, especially with specialization in pathology.
And now here we are, with people dropping dead all over the place and the seeming total confusion and incapacity of government to handle their remains. In the Jos Hansen area of United Nations Drive down Waterside last weekend, another corpse was found and neighbors had to put it in a plastic bag and haul it by rope to be buried in a shallow grave. In Grand Cape Mount, too, an Ebola body was recently abandoned in a home, where they left an eight-child. The child also died.
It is very sad that the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOH) has rejected our argument that they, more than any other GOL agency, are responsible for dead bodies, most especially the highly contagious Ebola dead. On Tuesday morning, Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Bernice Dahn, told the Daily Observer that MOH “is no longer responsible for Ebola bodies, but the Ministry of Internal Affairs.” This means that MOH has failed to see that because they have surrendered their medical and scientific responsibility, leaving Ebola bodies to politicians, who have NO expertise in this business, bodies continue to lie unattended, causing greater spread of the epidemic.
MOH does not see that the Ebola corpse crisis continues. On Tuesday we reported that some 45 bodies had been improperly buried, again in Johnsonville, and the stench has driven people from their neighborhoods. When contacted, of MIA officials issued the alarming statement that “Removal of dead bodies is not relevant!”
Can Doctors Gwenigale and Bernice Dahn now see what we are talking about? The MIA is NOT the proper agency to handle this matter because that is not what they were trained to do.
We call on the President immediately to return the responsibility for Ebola bodies to the MOH and give them the money, equipment and supplies to do this urgent job, lest the spread of the Ebola virus will continue.
What happened in Weala and now again in Johnsonville should never be allowed to happen again, for such a situation is highly dangerous, and could further expose people in the surrounding areas to the virus.
The MOH and its local and international partners should develop a comprehensive strategy to handle Ebola corpses. The MOH and partners should equip the handlers with full protective gear, with the chemicals they need to spray the remains, and with sufficient and well organized transportation to ferry the bodies to recognized burial sites and the crematorium.
MOH should lease vehicles from Monrovia’s rental dealerships to carry out the task at hand. But we can understand if some rental agencies may be reluctant to get involved. GOL should then purchase of a fleet of minibuses specifically to be used as hearses for the Ebola dead.
Another problem we at the Daily Observer have heard about is that the Ebola response hotlines are not functioning. We have heard countless complaints from people who say they have called these hotlines repeatedly and no one answers. We hope that the MOH can fix this other problem, too, by deploying and crash-training non-essential hospital staff to manage the hotlines. These operators should be strongly instructed to be helpful, clear and empathetic, realizing that they are dealing with people in distress.
Non-English speakers should be connected to operators who speak their languages. This can be done and such a system can be well established and continue to everyone’s benefit even after Ebola.