In Liberia, Ebola outbreak may be under control, but not fear and suffering

Liberia’s few Ebola treatment centres are overwhelmed with the sick and dying—with patients sharing beds and the dead laying near the desperately ill. The country has accounted for more than half of the world’s deaths from the latest Ebola outbreak in West Africa and despite assurances from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf that it is under control, evidence on the ground suggests otherwise. Whole communities are gripped with fear about the virus—and terrified citizens prefer to die alone, unaided because of the stigma attached to admitting to the disease.

There’s no day comes that people don’t die in their house. Every day, every blessing day.

Mark Korvoyan, head of a burial team

Dozens of Ebola victims are dying in their homes in Monrovia, increasing the chances of the virus spreading. And official numbers of victims are almost certainly unrepresentative of the real death toll because of the lack of coordination and nationwide spread of the disease. Small teams of about half a dozen workers set out daily to retrieve the dead—most of whom have died after suffering in secret. Their relatives are reluctant to admit Ebola has caused the death, as this invariably invites ostracism from their communities and targets them as potential virus carriers. The body recovery squads—still called “burial teams” despite government orders that all victims be cremated—are doing one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. They take extreme precautions, wearing multiple protective clothing layers along with goggles, boots, gloves and head coverings to try to stay safe. There’s simply too much work for the recovery teams to do, not enough hours in the day for them to track down the dead.