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A CASE FOR REVIEWING THE AUTOMATIC EBOLA BURIAL OBITER-DICTUM

By: Winstanley R Bankole Johnson 

The pleasures of our usual Sunday evening rendezvous were interrupted  last week by news of the demise (and urgent same-day burial) of one-time popular Freetown socialite Madam Yomi Hagan (RIP) a renowned diabetic of over thirty (30) years. Also, after suddenly collapsing and dying apparently from a heart attack along Goderich Street in his line of active duty, an “Omolanke” (hand cart)  pusher’s body (RIP) was so effectively “chlorinated” that it turned almost black within minutes, drawing ire from his colleagues “dreg man dem” on the spot that almost turned into a full blown riot.

ebUnder normal circumstances, the late Yomi Hagan’s funeral service and procession would have been like a grand city carnival, probably second only to that of the “Last Monday in August Annual City of London Carnival festivities. But agreeably these are not normal times. So unlike the fanfare which no doubt heralded their entrances into the universe, both Madam Yomi Hagan and our late “Omolanke Man” retreated “unsung” – or “unnoticed” if you like – no thanks to the recently imposed “Automatic Ebola Burial Obiter Dictum”.

 

Truth be told, the fact that this practice is a daily topical debate at the slightest given opportunity means it is not resonating well with a significant percentage of the population, especially amongst those for whom same-day burials of non-Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) related corpses is not traditional. And they cut across all tribes in this country.  So quite inarguably even though I hear it is temporary, some adjustments would seem necessary even at this stage.

 

Of course because these are extra-ordinary times demanding equally extra-ordinary decisions and actions, changes in our behavioural patterns may become an  imperative for the overall good of society, but they should not be executed in a manner that will induce a simmering and insidious enmity in the minds of the populace against the government. And that is why I believe this seemingly irrevocable “Automatic Ebola Burial dictum” should again be reviewed by our usually caring and listening President Ernest Bai koroma, so as to sustain its appeal to the governed, without diluting the ferocity and aggression of our fight against our common EVD. And here are a few cogent reasons that might assist the National Ebola Response Committee (NERC) arrive at such alternative decisions from an informed perspective.

  1. Patients dying at home shortly after having been diagnosed “Ebola Free” and turned away because the incapacity of our hospitals should be proactively monitored thereafter and not be hurriedly accorded “Automatic Ebola burials”, because we already have their medical records.
  2. As I understand it, only certified hospital deaths and accident victims (un-swabbed) are exempt. But how convinced is the NERC that at the time of such accidents, a victim was already not exhibiting full blown signs of the disease? Will according such victims normal burial rites not equally and unsuspectingly open sympathizers to risks of contracting the EVD?
  3. We now have a much re-structured, re-invigorated and resourceful NERC complimenting an equally more robust, concerted and well co-ordinated foreign interventions with an aggregated daily capacity to provide in excess of 500 blood/swab samples results within 24 hours. Even by the scary projections of the World Health Organization (WHO) of about 20,000 new cases for Sierra Leone into early year 2015, our daily recorded figures are far less than what the existing labs can turn around within the 24- hour cycle. So why the rush to bury people?   And what’s most unfair here is that once the Burial Teams have accomplished their roles, no one bothers to avail the surviving families with the courtesy of the swab results.
  4. And what of our many “community dry bones” ultimately answering their long awaited Master’s call?
  5. Again as I understand it, two certificates are now required for a single corpse: The usual death certificate and an “Ebola-free” certificate.  Relying on the former, there would seem to be no need for the perfunctory “Ebola Burial Van” sweep, as that can only lead to further “stigmatization”. Of course where the course of death is “EVD”, then that practice should suffice.
  6. By this “Automatic Ebola Burial” system, we are unconsciously playing into the hands of the international community because of its tendency to exponentially and inaccurately hike our EVD death statistics. And by so doing, we are further engendering unnecessary international blacklisting and stigmatization of Sierra Leone in a manner that will make next door Liberia look like play cook.  Already, the Office of the Registrar of Births and Deaths, like most government hospitals and Peripheral Health Units (PHUs) is dysfunctional. The NERC should note that getting things right even in the midst of our medical crisis should be a part of the commencement of our rebuilding processes.

 

No doubt the NERC appears to be enjoying tremendous support in their crowd containment efforts especially at funeral processions after Church services and Mosque prayers, and this should be rigidly enforced so that only very close – in fact selected – relatives can accompany corpses of their dear-departed to the designated cemeteries. But of course, that should be done without the Ebola Burial Van sweep, to avoid stigmatization where none is necessary.

 

I am given to understand that the Methodist Family is so much in sync with my above submissions that they have appointed a “Select Committee” under the Chairmanship of Bishop Emeritus Rt. Rev. Christopher Temple to deliberate on the matter this week in order to arrive at a “Resolution” for government re-considerations and review of this “Automatic Ebola Burial Obiter Dictum” through the NERC. I can only wish them well.

 

It has to be noted however that “Automatic Ebola Burials” of non-Ebola certified corpses is neither a panacea nor a short cut to ending the scourge, unless of course somebody is trying to fester public disenchantment against the government.

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