At least 20% Ebola infections occur during burials of deceased Ebola patients

WHO attributes slowdown in Liberia’s Ebola outbreak to reform in their burial practices

Published: Monday 10 November 2014


Cultural practices like rubbing down bodies at funeral rites have often been blamed for spread of Ebola outbreak.  The World health Organization (WHO), therefore, has now introduced a protocol for safe and dignified burial of people who die from Ebola virus.

“At least 20 per cent of new Ebola infections occur during burials of deceased Ebola patients," says Pierre Formenty, an Ebola expert with the international health agency. “Introducing components such as inviting the family to be involved in digging the grave and offering options for dry ablution and shrouding will make a significant difference in curbing Ebola transmission,” she adds.

How infections occur

Ebola infections occur during burials when family and community members perform religious rites that require directly touching or washing the infected body; and when family members distribute personal property of the loved one, which may be infected with the virus.

According to a Reuters report, WHO has recently said that a slowdown in Liberia’s Ebola outbreak and the continued rampant rate of infection in Sierra Leone may reflect contrasting ways the two countries are dealing with burials.

Since the spread of present outbreak that has killed more than 5,000 in three countries—Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone—experts have been worried about the way dead bodies are being treated in the region. Formenty who is also the leader of WHO’s Emerging and Epidemic Zoonotic Diseases team says major efforts had been undertaken to make funerals safe, with more attention paid initially to Liberia than Sierra Leone.

“New Ebola infections in West Africa, the epicenter of the disease outbreak, have dropped in places where the US and British aid workers encourage safe burial practices,” says Samantha Power, US ambassador to the United Nations, in a Bloomberg report.

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