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WHO: 'Safe but Dignified' Burial for Ebola Victims

Nov 11, 2014 04:40 PM EST

The deadly Ebola pandemic that continues to sweep through West Africa is likely spreading to a decent portion of affected communities through the improper treatment and burial of confirmed and suspected infection victims. Now the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed new protocols that they believe will help facilitate the safe-but-dignified burial of Ebola victims.

"At least 20 percent of new Ebola infections occur during burials of deceased Ebola patients," Pierre Formenty, one of WHO's top Ebola experts, said in a recent release.

This is stunning news, even in the wake of previous investigations that found that the great majority of secondary infections occur at treatment faculties, often where hospital staff become infected.

"Ebola infections occur during burials when family and community members perform religious rites that require directly touching or washing the body, which still contains high levels of Ebola virus," the WHO reported, adding that to avoid this, the organization and other aid groups have been keeping a closer eye on burial activities, helping prevent exposure when possible.

"We are becoming known for 'dead body management,' but we do not 'manage' dead bodies. We safely, respectfully and in a dignified manner, accompany our deceased fellow human beings and help to prepare them, in accordance with their cultures, for their last resting places. It is in this spirit that our volunteers carry out their difficult work," explained Elhadj As Sy, Secretary General, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

The IFRC, local authorities, and WHO investigators are now following a new WHO protocol that oversees most religious needs, but avoids unnecessary contact.

For instance, "it is clear from Islamic juristic ruling that the necessity of religious washing of the body before burial of patients who die from Ebola is over-ruled," said Rehanah Sadiq, a Muslim chaplain who served as a WHO consultant on the protocol.

"By building trust and respect between burial teams, bereaved families and religious groups, we are building trust and safety in the response itself," Formenty added. "Introducing components such as inviting the family to be involved in digging the grave and offering options for dry ablution and shrouding will make a significant difference in curbing Ebola transmission."

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