Ebola burial team - the world's bravest undertakers
Meet the world's bravest undertakers - Liberia's Ebola burial squad
In calmer times in Liberia, before the fear of Ebola became as feverish as the onset of the disease itself, Cecilia Johnson’s funeral could have been a dignified affair.
Posted by Jill Fallon at August 11, 2014 4:38 PM
But when she died of an unspecified illness on Thursday, her family in St Paul's Bridge, a slum district of the capital, Monrovia, ignored government edicts to hand her body over for cremation. Instead, fearing the prospect of being quarantined themselves if they reported it, they sneaked it to the cemetery in neighbouring Tyre Shop Community for burial the following morning.
The problem was that nobody wanted it there. Halfway through the burial, they were confronted by an angry crowd of Tyre Shop residents, demanding to know why a potentially-infected corpse was going in "their" cemetery. A scuffle ensued, and eight hours later, Ms Johnson's corpse lay parked by the roadside in a rusting, mud-spattered wheelbarrow, covered by a piece of carpet and still seeking a final resting place.For the two distressed relatives who remained by her side, standing drenched in a tropical storm, it was a case of Not in My Backyard, and Not in My Graveyard either.
Such was the scene that greeted the Liberian government's new Ebola "burial team" on Friday, as their convoy arrived, sirens blaring, to pick the corpse. Set up specifically to deal with the Ebola outbreak, which has now claimed nearly 1,000 lives across west Africa, theirs is probably the most dangerous undertakers' job in the world.
It is not just the threat of the deadly virus itself, which is still highly contagious in dead bodies. It is also an extremely sensitive issue with locals, for whom a visit from a team in boiler suits and masks is the modern-day equivalent of having an "X" marked on their door during the days of Europe's Black Death.
"We have been attacked by mobs of people many times," said the team's leader, Mark Korvayan, who sports a scar on his shaved head from one recent battle, and whose team is now routinely escorted by the police. "The police escort helps, but this is still a dangerous job."