Ministry of Health

Family comes for body of ebola victim, spreads disease

Ebola-pallbearers

An excerpt from this doctor’s journal in Liberia:

Ebola is often passed from the dead body to those handling it. In one case, the government took five days to come for the body.

The three pallbearers come the hallway just outside the X-ray room. Gillian explains how to put on the protective gear given us by the Ministry of Health. Full body suits with hoods are zipped on. Two pairs of gloves are put on and we realize the sleeves are too short and pull out easily from under the gloves leaving the wrists exposed. Brilliant design! Gillian solves the problem with her pocket knife. We make thumb holes in the sleeves and loop them over the thumbs before reapplying the gloves. Now the sleeves stay under the gloves. I see right off this is a weakness in the system. Even if we were there to observe, the likelihood of contamination is high.

The three men go into the X-ray room and pick up the whole bench where the body has been laid. Then they take it down the hallway, down a flight of stairs and through a hallway, past the kitchen and into the open air where the truck awaits. They lift the whole bench in the truck and then slip the body onto a drape, remove the bench and wrap the body. I look at the bench which has a huge wet spot under where the man’s abdomen and thorax had been: bodily fluids soaked into the wood. The truck drives outside and Gillian goes upstairs to prepare the death certificate. I spray some chlorine water on the bench’s wettest spots and then go upstairs.

A new problem has arisen. The head of the family states that they can’t go out dressed as biohazard personnel. They’ll be arrested immediately (of course, that’s the point, but we can’t say that). Our idea was for them to take the body and then count on the police to arrest them, take the body to test it and then bury it safely in a secret grave site they have reserved for just that.

So now we have to have them come back in the courtyard and take off their suits. There is a lot of disorder. Things are touched that shouldn’t be. We give them new biohazard suits to put on once they get to the graveyard. I’m sure they won’t use them.

They wash in bleach and take off. I use the rest of the bucket of chlorine water to douse the entire bench.

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