Via NPR's Goats and Soda: Death, Sex And A Glimmer Of Hope: Reporting On Ebola From Sierra Leone. Excerpt:
NPR's Jason Beaubien is in Kailahun, Sierra Leone, covering the Ebola outbreak that began in March in Guinea and has spread to neighboring countries. This morning, he talked with us about a controversial burial, the impact of the "no touching" recommendation — and a sign of hope.
Yesterday you were planning to go to the funeral for a 70-year-old woman who died of Ebola. How was it?
The funeral definitely captured the tension over Ebola. The son of this woman had dug a grave right behind her house, in the backyard where she wanted to be buried. But other people filled the grave in before her body arrived because they didn't want her buried there. Eventually the local chief came to settle everything, and the chief was quite upset. The son had to apologize to the chief for not having consulted him about burying his mother in the backyard. Then the chief allowed him to bury his mother in the village but it had to be in the jungle behind the village.
And so this guy and some relatives within an hour had cleared this area and dug a grave six feet deep. That's where they had the burial. The chief said this was the last time he was going to allow someone to bury an Ebola victim in the village.
The chief wants them to be buried...?
By the Ebola treatment center on the periphery of Kailahun, three or four miles from her village.
Why are people afraid of burying an Ebola victim in the village?
People just don't know how Ebola spreads. And they worry if a body's been buried and has Ebola in it, the Ebola will be able to get out and get them.
Ebola can't spread from a body that's been buried. How dangerous is the body before it's interred?
When a person dies, the virus has run rampant through that person. The level of virus is much lower in a person who's built up antibodies to fight it back. A dead body is incredibly hot from Ebola and is likely to transmit the virus.
So people are justified in being afraid of dead bodies. What happens when a body is found?
This morning I heard there was a dead body, a man just behind his house. People said he'd been sick for quite some time, like three years. So it's unclear whether he actually died from Ebola or something else. But when someone is just found dead in the street, everybody thinks it's Ebola and you have to treat the body as if it's Ebola.
How was the body handled?
Everyone was terrified. Guys suited up in [protective] suits, three layers of gloves. WHO [World Health Organization] is trying to train local guys to do this. And this is part of the story at the moment. You've got Ebola cases popping up all over, not just in Sierra Leone but in Liberia, in Guinea. Somebody has to go in and deal with the bodies. The problem throughout the region is that there isn't the medical staff trained in how to deal with an Ebola case.
Are there other misconceptions about Ebola?
Well, just a few minutes ago, I was talking to this one guy. He was saying that initially they believed that the white people who were showing up to treat Ebola were cannibals, and they were trying to steal body parts. They were taking blood samples, taking swabs from dead bodies. And he said they believed I was a cannibal.
And he meant you personally – that there were thoughts you were a cannibal?
He said it directly to me.
But he said now he knows that that's not the case. He said the people are gaining confidence in the people who've come to try to treat people here.