Via The Washington Post: In Sierra Leone, the ghosts of war haunt an Ebola graveyard. After describing how Andrew Kondoh guarded the dumped bodies of victims of the civil war in the 1990s, the report continues:
When it ended, the leaders of the fighting forces were tried. The mortuary reopened. Kondoh went to high school. He got a job at an Internet cafe and then an aid organization. He met his wife. They had a baby boy. The economy started improving. The dying was over, Kondoh told himself.
In May, Ebola came to Sierra Leone. In September, he saw a posting for a “Burial Welfare Supervisor.” He sent in his résumé.
“It’s not something I wanted to do again,” Kondoh said. “But I felt I needed to be on the front line.”
A new horror is unfolding amid the reminders of the old one. More than 2,000 Sierra Leoneans have died from Ebola. Organizations like UNICEF, which once tended to orphans of war, now care for orphans of Ebola- stricken parents. Soldiers enforce quarantines at homes and man checkpoints. But these days, they wield thermometers instead of guns.
The National Ebola Response Center was created in a modern compound atop a hill in Freetown. Until 2012, it had been the Special Court for Sierra Leone, established by the United Nations to try rebels, soldiers and others for war atrocities. Now, in the former courtroom, British, American and Sierra Leonean officials review daily fatality counts projected onto a big screen. They hurry past old jail cells on their way to meetings. In unused offices, long-forgotten court documents are spread across tables.
“Right over there is where we tried men for the worst atrocities,” said Palo Conteh, the head of the response center, pointing toward the courtroom 20 yards from his office. “And now we’re here waging a much different war.”
Burials in Sierra Leone typically involve large gatherings in which relatives and friends wash, touch and kiss the bodies of the deceased. Such actions are seen as a critical way to show respect.
But they also hasten the spread of the disease, as Ebola victims are at their most infectious immediately after death. Fifty to 70 percent of Ebola cases stem from traditional burials, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In August, to stop the chain of transmission, the government of Sierra Leone mandated that all of the deceased be buried as if they had Ebola — in body bags and by teams in protective gear. Families can attend the ceremonies, but they can’t go near the dead.
Kondoh started the job in September, as Ebola centers in Freetown began to overflow. He didn’t tell any of 220 people whom he managed about his past job and the makeshift graveyard. At times, he forgot about it himself.
“But when the bodies would come in decomposed, when I smelled them . . . ” Kondoh said, his voice trailing off. “It was just like, ‘bam.’ ”
People here still remember how during the war the dead were left to rot, or were sometimes incinerated in mass cremations. Such treatment of corpses was deeply painful to the victims’ relatives.
Today, families sometimes attack burial team members whom they see as disrupting their religious practice and attempts at closure. Five of the trucks that Kondoh’s teams use have been damaged by angry mourners.
Kondoh comforts grieving families, assuring them that they are invited to attend the burials, as long as they cover their shoes with garbage bags and stay far from the graves.
“No matter how careful we are, it’s a shocking experience for families,” said Fiona McLysaght, the country director for Ireland-based Concern Worldwide, Kondoh’s employer. “Andrew is able to navigate his way around these complex issues.”
Click through and read the whole report. It helps to explain that Ebola in West Africa has a backstory, and is itself a backstory to the next public-health disaster—wherever it breaks out.