In Liberia's capital, residents fear Ebola dead

by Reuters
Sunday, 3 August 2014 13:19 GMT

Health workers, wearing head-to-toe protective gear, prepare for work, outside an isolation unit in Foya District, Lofa County, Liberia in this July 2014 UNICEF handout photo. REUTERS/Ahmed Jallanzo/UNICEF/Handout via Reuters

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President considers mandatory cremation for all Ebola victims "to avoid tampering with the dead and contaminating water sources"

* Liberia deploys army to burial site after local resistance

* Bodies of Ebola dead still highly contagious

* President considers mandatory cremation of corpses

By Derick Snyder

MONROVIA, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Against a deepening twilight in a swampy field outside of Liberia's capital Monrovia, a bulldozer engine roars next to a small group of muddy graves.

These are the intended tombs for victims of the tropical Ebola virus that has already killed 156 people so far in the West African country and more than 729 people in the region, according to the World Health Organisation.

But, as the sun sets on Saturday, instead of the 100 graves ordered by the health ministry there are just five shallow holes, partly filled with water.

The slow progress follows strong resistance from local communities who do not want victims of the disease buried near their homes, enhancing the difficulties of stretched West African governments as they seek to control the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

Liberia's overcrowded and understaffed Elwa Hospital has had to turn away Ebola cases this week - a scenario exacerbated by the withdrawal of some international staff following the infection of two U.S. health workers here.

Ebola, which is fatal in more than half of cases in the current outbreak, is transmitted by direct contact with the blood or fluids of the infected, including the dead.

The first burial site for the 30 bodies in the poor township of Johnsonville was abandoned by health workers after the land owner refused to sell the land to bury Ebola victims.

At the second site, an angry crowd gathered, shouting at health workers dressed in white protective suits who sought to appease them by handing out Ebola information flyers.

"You will have to kill us first," shouted one group.

Forces from the Liberian army with shields and bulletproof vests arrived on the scene shortly afterwards. A source in the health ministry said the bodies were finally buried overnight with the help of around 40 additional workers.

The government says that high levels of mistrust and resistance from local communities justifies a series of strict new measures designed to control the outbreak.

Liberia plans to close schools and consider quarantining some communities as part of an action plan outlined this week by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

The president said she was also considering mandatory cremation for all Ebola victims "to avoid tampering with the dead and contaminating water sources".

"We are a traditional society and this disease attacks traditional practices like how we prepare bodies for burial," said Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown in an interview last week.

"It's difficult, but so is this disease which is drastic and deadly, requiring very, very stringent and difficult measures". (Writing and additional reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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