Africa

Ebola outbreak: Sierra Leone workers dump bodies in Kenema

  • 25 November 2014
  • From the section Africa
People look at a body outside hospital in Kenema Image copyright BBC Media Action
Image caption The bodies have now been removed

Burial workers in the Sierra Leonean city of Kenema have dumped bodies in public in protest at non-payment of allowances for handling Ebola victims.

The workers, who went on strike over the issue, left 15 bodies abandoned at the city's main hospital.

One of the bodies was reportedly left by the hospital manager's office and two others by the hospital entrance.

The workers have now been sacked for treating the corpses in a "very, very inhumane" way, an official said.

Sierra Leone is one of the countries worst affected by this year's Ebola outbreak, with more than 1,200 deaths.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Burial workers are especially at risk of becoming infected

Kenema is the third largest city in Sierra Leone and the biggest in the east, where the Ebola outbreak first emerged in the country.

The burial workers told a BBC reporter they had not been paid agreed extra risk allowances for October and November.

The BBC's Umaru Fofana in Freetown says the bodies have now been taken away but the workers had refused to end their strike.

Danger after death

A spokesman for the government's National Ebola Response Centre, Sidi Yahya Tunis, said the workers had been sacked not for striking, but for indiscipline by treating the corpses in a "very, very inhumane" manner.

He said there would be an investigation into why workers had not been paid, since both the government and World Bank had released money for high-risk pay to district health management teams.

"Somebody somewhere has to investigate where these monies have been going, who have been paid these monies... Action will definitely be taken against those who delayed their pay," Mr Tunis told the BBC.

The burial workers' industrial action came two weeks after health workers went on strike for similar reasons at a clinic near Bo - the only facility in southern Sierra Leone treating Ebola victims.

Ebola has killed more than 5,000 people in West Africa this year, mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak a global health emergency.

People are infected when they have direct contact through broken skin, or the mouth and nose, with the blood, vomit, faeces or bodily fluids of someone with Ebola.

The virus can be present in urine and semen too.

Infection may also occur through direct contact with contaminated bedding, clothing and surfaces - but only through broken skin.

The virus is still dangerous and present in the body after death. Burial workers are at risk of infection and commonly wear protective clothing and take other precautions.

Health professionals say those who have died from Ebola should be buried promptly to lessen the risks of infection spreading.