By Victor Lacken, IFRC
Friday Kiyee, who leads one of the Liberia National Red Cross Society’s safe and dignified burial teams, is pretty clear about one thing. He takes no pleasure in his job.
“We are not happy to see our own Liberian brothers dying,” he says. “We go out in the street picking up their bodies. We are not happy about that, but the fact of the matter is that we just have to do it. If we don't do it, the virus will keep spreading.”
Prior to the current Ebola outbreak, Friday worked as a mortician at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, so he is used to dealing with the dead. His wife and six children are aware of the work he does and they accept it, he says, because they know it is part of the profession for which he studied.
His working day begins with a list of communities where he must go to collect the bodies of suspected Ebola victims. At the height of the crisis, his team was one of six operating in Montserrado County where they could collect up to 15 bodies on any given day.
“There has not been one day since we started in late July that we did not pick up a body,” says Friday. “It is playing on everybody's mind.”
His team received training from the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and the World Health Organization. Strict protocols regarding safety are in place and must be adhered to.
“My life is at risk because if I make the slightest mistake I will get infected,” he says. "The best thing we can do is to dress properly and follow all the safety procedures before going to pick up a body.”
This attention to detail, ensuring all team members are properly attired in protective clothing and that disinfectant is used appropriately and unsparingly, has meant that none of his team has become sick, despite the contagion all around them.
“We have two sprayers,” says Friday, “the dirty sprayer, which is the man who goes in first to disinfect the area before the others come to pick up the body. And then we have a clean sprayer who disinfects those coming out from the house or the retrieval scene.”
Not all families are happy to see the bodies of their loved ones taken away by men in protective suits. It can lead to confusion, resentment, sometimes even hostility.
“Before we take the body, we do a bit of social work activity. We call the bereaved family and community together and introduce ourselves and the emblem of the Red Cross. We need to convince the people before we take the body out of the house and make sure they are satisfied.”
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched a revised emergency appeal of 24.5 million Swiss francs to reach 4.5 million people who could be affected by the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. In total, IFRC has launched 16 Ebola operations in response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, targeting 39 million people. For more details on the Red Cross regional Ebola response, visit www.ifrc.org/ebola-crisis.