Female Red Cross volunteers in Safe and Dignify Burial step forward to restore dignity to female corpses.
Before the outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Sierra Leone, it was a taboo in most part of the country for young people especially those of child bearing age to witness washing and preparation of corpses. In line with tradition females prepared female corpses for burial and males would prepare male bodies. However, as the death toll escalated and the majority of the burial teams were composed of only males, such a provision for women could not be made.
Seeking to preserve the dignity of their deceased loved ones, some families would object to the all- male team attending the female corpse or the burial teams would arrive to find that the deceased had already been washed and dressed. Such interaction with a potentially contagious body will have resulted in new chains of transmission. To counter this, over 30 Red Cross female volunteers across the country are now part of the Red Cross Safe and Dignified Burial Teams.
Marion Kargbo, 24 is a wife and mother of two children, who became the first female SDB team leader. “My reason for joining the SDB team was to serve humanity after several stories I had about the way female dead bodies were treated.” Many communities complained that female dead bodies were not treated with the appropriate level of respect “ by small or young boys who were in charge of burial. “This made most families were not allowing their loved ones who were females to be taken care of by men, hence this was a reasons for the spread of Ebola in some communities in Bo where I am working.”
“Before I became a team leader, I had a horrible experience at Bumpeh village which was an Ebola hotspot. One afternoon we went to pick up a corpse, we met the lady bleeding all over, I felt so bad that I told a colleague of mine that after this experience I am going to drop out of the burial team. It was such a horrible sight to see my fellow woman lying in her own pool of blood abandon by her relatives and friends.”
However, Marion realised that she was making a vital contribution to stopping the Ebola outbreak and continued to work with the team to become their leader. “Despite the fact that I am a team lead and should be directing the team, in order to satisfy families who will rather have a lady take care of their dead, I still dress up in PPE to help prepare the dead for burial.”
“I strongly believe in the principles of the Red Cross to serve humanity and I am of the strongest opinion that if women continue to support the fight against Ebola it will soon become a thing of the past. I have not regretted my service to the Red Cross as a volunteer and I will continue to serve humanity”.
By Edward Renner and Lisa Pattison