Sierra Leone: Showing solidarity as Ebola hits new districts

Publicado: 19 diciembre 2014 12:03 CET

By: Lisa Pattison, IFRC

Since Kono became the latest Ebola hotspot in Sierra Leone, the Red Cross has trained two new safe and dignified burial teams, and deployed an experienced team from neighbouring Kailahun district to bolster its response efforts.

An alert comes in from the command centre indicating a body needs to be retrieved from Kwandor village in Soa chiefdom, located in the far east of Sierra Leone. The burial team convoy of two vehicles, one carrying the team, and a truck carrying the equipment, rumbles along an arduous track to reach its destination. The distance is 47 kilometres away from the district capital of Koidu, but takes over two hours to cover.

The way is part dirt road, part boulder-strewn footpath, pocked with potholes resembling craters. The team passes several overturned trucks which remind them how few vehicles are suited to this terrain. Passing over several ridges bridged with hand cut logs, the drivers have to negotiate their approach in order to pass. On either side of the track lies lush green forest, which is occasionally interrupted by the presence of human life and villages. Despite the challenging terrain, the team gives thanks it is not the rainy season or else this journey could be double the time.

The team pulls into Kwandor village to be greeted by curious onlookers. This is the first time villagers have seen a burial team, although some say they have seen images of them. Even in this remote corner, they have heard of Ebola. The team greets the chief and dresses in their protective equipment in front of the community. A beneficiary communicator from the Red Cross engages the chief, family and wider community to explain the new burial procedures and find out about the context surrounding the death.

“Of course the burial team looks strange to us, and some people feel a little shy towards them, but we understand why they are here and why we have to bury our families in this way until Ebola leaves Sierra Leone,” says Sahr Lebbie, a teacher in the village. “Ebola has caused us to change in many ways. We no longer eat bush meat, instead, when we have guests, we offer them fish. We no longer shake our guest’s hand because that would be touching,” continues Lebbie.

In front of the whole village, the burial team collects the body of five month old Musa who had difficulties breathing the night before. No one else in the household is sick. The body is brought out in a white body bag while the house is disinfected. The family will have to sleep elsewhere for 24 hours until the chemicals subside. 

The men come forward and say a short prayer, keeping distance between themselves and the person next to them, before the body is taken to the a spot in the community cemetery. The safe and dignified burial has taken about 40 minutes and has been positively received by the chief and the community.

Silvester Pabar, an experienced member of the Kailahun team, notices the difference between the reaction of the community now and when he first started in June. “People used to run away from us or block the road with sticks when they heard we were coming,” he says. Growing awareness of what Ebola is seems to have changed people’s reactions. “Because Ebola has not gone away, people have started to accept us as part of the solution to this problem. We have not reached everyone though, we need to continue talking about Ebola.”

The Red Cross has scaled up its operations from seven districts to cover all 14 districts in Sierra Leone, and is active in contact tracing, psychosocial assistance, social mobilization, case management, and safe and dignified burials. To help new districts in the Ebola operation and to speed up its implementation, trainers are being sent in to share critical lessons which have been learned over the past half a year. In the case of Kono, the Kailahun burial team has come to give support and share their know-how. Despite the challenging road conditions, the Kono teams have already managed to bury 11 bodies.

Pabar acknowledges, “Kono is just now facing Ebola. We have had it for months in Kailahun and are beating it. This is our way of showing them they are not alone. We are here to give them confidence and ensure their safety. In Kailahun, I wanted to help my people. My people are also here in Kono.”

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched a revised emergency appeal of 41 million Swiss francs to reach more than 11 million people who could be affected by the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. In total, IFRC has launched 16 Ebola operations in response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, targeting 39 million people. For more details on the Red Cross regional Ebola response, visit