By Amjata Bayoh
As Sierra Leone continues the fight to reach zero case and beyond, getting communities to abide by Safe and Dignified Medical Burials continues to be met with resistance.
According to NERC CEO Paulo Conteh some communities are still choosing not to call the medical team to conduct burials and this has led to new cases and a hotspot of EVD in the Western Area. Safe burial practice has been a challenge since the outbreak started and WHO statistic show that 70-80 percent of people get infected with Ebola by participating in unsafe burial practices.
Francis Koroma is a SMAC Community Mobiliser in Bombali district working with Restless Development, and says “My role is to trigger people in the community so they can change their behaviour”. SMAC mobilisers work in teams to engage communities at a deep level. They not only visit houses and share information but they also have conversations, hear the concerns of communities and answer questions. “We listen more than we talk because we really want to know the community knowledge on EVD and how they should protect their self and their family”, says Francis.
Francis himself is an Ebola survivor and lost 13 relatives to Ebola; his heart breaking story has bought comfort and courage to many, “I always use myself as example when talking to people because I have felt the pain of what they are currently going through. I have lost my mum, kids and other family members to Ebola and over 100 people died in the village were I am from. I am lucky to survive because I reported early to the health professionals and now I am here to tell my story to people”, he says.
Francis’s experience of safe and dignified burials when he lost his family four months ago is very different to how they are conducted now, indicating vast improvements in what can be a painful process for those that have lost loved ones. “In the area of safe and dignified medical burials a lot has change as compared to when the outbreak was at its peak in November 2014. During that time I lost my family members and I was not allow to visit the cemetery and even know where they were buried a situation which I still remain to regret because I didn’t know where my mum was buried. But now the process is safe and respectful”, Francis says.
Burials workers are trained to be sensitive in their handling of people’s loved ones and consider the traditional and religious beliefs of Sierra Leone society. This is reflected in the process of handling bodies when women burial team members are delegated to dress female corpses. Families are invited to provide cloths and coffins and observe the burial at the cemetery and can offer prayer from a safe distance.
Francis Koroma is continuing to working with communities alongside his fellow mobilisers to answer questions and engage in discussion with communities on Ebola, his wider message though is clear, “I appeal to everyone to call 117 if they feel sick or if someone died in their community, by doing so you will be saving lives.”
He also believes that those who have survived this terrible disease need more support, “I appeal to the Government and other NGOs not to forget survivors and ophans of Ebola”.