Police in Ebola-hit Sierre Leone raided a funeral on Tuesday and arrested 13 people suspected of organising an unsafe burial, risking spreading the disease, officers said. Police superintendent Da Samah said “heavily-armed” police arrived just in time to stop a 50-year-old man being interred on the outskirts of Freetown after they were tipped off about the ceremony.
“We stopped the burial and we have put out an alert for an ambulance which eyewitnesses said brought the corpse to the cemetery,” he told newsmen. “We arrested those present because there was no burial permit nor any documents relating to the burial.”
Health authorities in Freetown have recorded 3,832 of more than 10,000 Ebola deaths in the outbreak, which began in southern Guinea in December 2013 before spreading to Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Ebola, one of the deadliest viruses known to man, is spread only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person showing symptoms such as fever or vomiting or the recently deceased. Palo Conteh, the national Ebola response chief, said traditional funeral rights involving contact with the dead remained the biggest driver of Ebola transmission.
Unsafe burials were common at the start of the epidemic but the latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO) show just one was reported in Sierra Leone in the week to March 29. Alimamy Kamara, head of the Ebola Response Centre in charge of Freetown and the surrounding area, said last week that people organising unsafe burials risked two year jail terms.
“People should adhere to the government policy of safe and dignified burials so that we can end the high rate of transmission of the Ebola virus,” he said. As of Sunday, 25,516 had contracted the virus and 10,573 had died, according to the WHO.