Ebola Burial Teams Go On Strike Over Risk Pay

BY TAI CHISHAKWE - OCTOBER 8, 2014

Ebola Burial Teams in two districts of Sierra Leone have reportedly gone on strike over the non-payment of their weekly risk allowances. Since the Ebola virus is highly infectious and remains active in the corpses of victims, only specialized teams in protective clothing are allowed to remove and dispose of the bodies.

It is feared the strike by the burial teams could worsen the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, which recorded 121 deaths and scores of new infections on a single day last week.

"We have decided to stop working until they pay us our weekly risk allowance," Tamba Nyandemoh told Reuters.

They have not been paid for two weeks, he said.

Burial teams in West Africa are being asked to retrieve the bodies of people who die from Ebola in their homes and in the streets as opposed to in hospitals. They do their job clad in multiple layers of clothing, along with goggles, boots, gloves, and head coverings in order to prevent infection.

The teams bury between 17 and 35 bodies daily, according to Nyandemoh.

Each team has 12 workers and every member of a team earns about US$100 a week.

Sierra Leone deputy health minister Madina Rahman said the teams have been paid through the end of September.

They are only owed for this week, she said. Rahman did not comment on the demand for risk pay.

The Sierra Leone government was already facing criticism this week over a shipping container filled with medical gear and mattresses that has been held up at the port for more than a month.

Sierra Leone is one of three West African countries, along with Liberia and Sierra Leone, hit hardest by the outbreak. The official number of confirmed Ebola cases is 2 100, with more than 600 dead, though global health officials say that the real number of both cases and deaths is likely far higher.

In all, more than 3 400 people have died since the outbreak was first reported in March.

Image: NBC News