Ebola: How traditional burial rituals help spread the disease

The Daily Vox is running a series of blogs written by DR STEFAN KRUGER, who is in Sierra Leone with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to help combat the spread of Ebola in the region.

Entry 4:  Triage and funerals

The case management centre is a neatly constructed tented village with timber and tin roofed walkways. Orange fencing indicates the path to take. At the one end there is a triage tent where patients are received and divided into “suspect” or “probable” categories, based on their history and apparent risk. There are “suspect” and “probable” tents where patients wait for their blood test results and from there another walkway leads to the “confirmed” area. This is where the majority of patients spend their days, either convalescing or gradually deteriorating. A little further along, in the distance, there is a makeshift mortuary.

Stefan Kruger MSFThe handling of deceased patients’ bodies is a crucial step in the operation. It appears that patients become more infectious the further their illness progresses. For this reason we take great care when handling bodies, especially when there has been bleeding or diarrhoea. From epidemiological data, it seems the biggest risk factor for contracting Ebola in Sierra Leone is attending the funeral of someone who has succumbed to the disease. Within the Kissi tribes there are elaborate burial rituals, which entail the body being exposed and touched. Often funeral goers will even kiss the lifeless body. It is, in fact, difficult to imagine a more ideal setting for a virus like Ebola to proliferate.


Read Kruger’s third entry here.

Doctors without Borders (MSF) is currently working in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia to combat the spread of Ebola across the region. To support this work, go to http://msf.org.za/donate or SMS “JOIN” to 42110 to donate R30. To receive direct updates about Ebola from Doctors without Borders (MSF) SA, e-mail your name to updates@msf.org.za with the subject line “Ebola”.

– Featured image via Sylvain Cherkaoui/Cosmos/MSF