Stop the Stigma against Your Brothers

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Liberians are again adding “insult to injury” by showing ingratitude to 36 men, who were hired to cremate corpses during the Ebola crisis in 2014.

These young men, all of whom reside in communities along the Marshall road in Margibi County, are complaining of being stigmatized in their communities, thereby making life unbearable for them.

The Liberian government, through the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Liberian National Red Cross Society (LNRCS), hired them to perform one of the riskiest tasks during the deadly Ebola virus outbreak in 2014.

The men were posted at the Indian Community-owned crematorium in Boys Town, where thousands of Liberians and a small number of foreign nationals, who died during the heat of the outbreak, were cremated (burnt).

Of the nearly 5,000 who died during the Ebola crisis in Liberia, more than 3,000 were cremated by these men. The cremation was necessary in order to break the chain of transmission as more and more Liberians were being infected, and most subsequently died.

According to experts, the body of an Ebola victim is very infectious and anyone touching it without sealed personal protection equipment (PPE) could contract the virus, whose symptoms take two to 21 days to manifest.

Now these 36 men who risked their lives and were deployed in the direct line of fire in order to help save their Motherland and their people are now being stigmatized by some of the same people they worked day and night to save.

Joaquin Sendolo, one of our reporters, recently met with these men in their communities and they all complained that because they were associated with the crematorium, they are now branded as “Ebola dead body burners.” Because of this, they are being stigmatized by their communities.

Sadly, according to them, the stigma has also extended to their immediate families, including children.

“When we walk in the community, people point at us and remark that we are Ebola body burners. As a result, people won’t give us contracts to help us make a living. I have decided to tutor my two daughters at home because when they go to school, friends often tell them that their father burned Ebola bodies and this can play on them. Moreover, they are not allowed to play with other children,” Franklin McCathy, one of the affected young men, lamented.

As a result of the stigma, McCarthy further said, his wife has left him and he now feels miserable.

Another of McCarthy’s friends, Otis Torbor, who is a builder, told our reporter that he has four children but at the moment he cannot find work as a builder in their community, which is now a developing community with many ongoing construction jobs.

All of this is due to the new label that is now tagged on him and others as “Ebola body burners.”

Like the other two, J.T. Josiah said he was hired by the Liberian government to cremate corpses of Ebola victims in order to prevent the disease from spreading, but afterward he was stigmatized.

Josiah said wherever he goes in the community people call him ‘Ebola dead body burner,’ making it difficult for him to associate with neighbors and other friends.

“It is difficult for us to find contracts here to earn a living,” he complained.

This stigmatization is not good for us as a people, who needed help so badly that our international friends also had to risk their own lives to come and help us combat the deadly virus.

When they came, they didn’t stigmatize us. They helped us get rid of the virus.

The scourge is over and all other prohibited activities including handshaking and large gatherings, some of which were not allowed during the height of the outbreak, have resumed.

The international community spent millions of their taxpayers’ monies to help us fight the virus. They also spent their peoples’ monies to educate us that when a person survives Ebola, he or she no longer poses any risk of infecting us, least to say those who didn’t contract the virus at all, even though they worked with Ebola victims.

So, every Liberian needs to know and understand that stigmatizing our brothers only further drives a wedge and alienates a segment of our population who, instead, should be embraced and thanked for their care, compassion and heroism. Let us stop the stigma.

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