Ebola victims 'lay dead in the street'

Last updated 11:42 04/08/2014

While Liberian hospital morgues are filled with Ebola victims, villagers refuse to have the dead buried. Sarah Toms reports.

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The bodies of two men previously showing symptoms of Ebola lay in the streets of Monrovia for four days before being collected by health workers, locals say.

"They both gave up and dropped dead on the ground on the street of Clara Town," said resident Nema Red, referring to a district of the Liberian capital.

Both men had shown symptoms of Ebola such as bleeding and vomiting before they died but scared locals had refused to take them to the hospital, she added.

Information Minister Lewis Brown confirmed that the bodies had been collected, although he said they had only been there for a few hours. "I can confirm that the bodies were in the street. They have been removed," he said on Sunday.

Residents of Liberia's capital have resisted efforts to confront the effect of Ebola as fear grows of the lethal virus.

Authorities in Liberia's capital have begun digging graves intended for victims  of the outbreak 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 set 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 US 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.

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"It's difficult, but so is this disease which is drastic and deadly, requiring very, very stringent and difficult measures". 

- Reuters

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