Ebola Outbreak 2014: In Sierra Leone, a group of young men take on the dirtiest work of the Ebola outbreak: finding and burying the dead.
In the campaign against the Ebola virus, which is sweeping across parts of West Africa in an epidemic worse than all previous outbreaks of the disease combined, the front line is stitched together by people like Ms. Sellu: doctors and nurses who give their lives to treat patients who will probably die; janitors who clean up lethal pools of vomit and waste so that beleaguered health centers can stay open; drivers who venture into villages overcome by illness to retrieve patients; body handlers charged with the dangerous task of keeping highly infectious corpses from sickening others.
Their sacrifices are evident from the statistics alone. At least 129 health workers have died fighting the disease, according to the World Health Organization. But while many workers have fled, leaving already shaky health systems in shambles, many new recruits have signed up willingly — often for little or no pay, and sometimes giving up their homes, communities and even families in the process.
“If I don’t volunteer, who can do this work?” asked Kandeh Kamara, one of about 20 young men doing one of the dirtiest jobs in the campaign: finding and burying corpses across eastern Sierra Leone.
When the outbreak started months ago, Mr. Kamara, 21, went to the health center in Kailahun and offered to help. When officials there said they could not pay him, he accepted anyway.
“There are no other people to do it, so we decided to do it just to help save our country,” he said of himself and the other young men. They call themselves “the burial boys.”
Doctors Without Borders trained them to wear protective equipment and to safely clear out dead bodies potentially infected with Ebola. They travel across backbreaking dirt roads for up to nine hours a day.
Ms. Sellu, who is one of the only Ebola workers at the Kenema hospital who have neither contracted the virus nor fled. Credit Samuel Aranda for The New York Times
In doing their jobs, the burial boys have become pariahs. Many have been cast out of their communities because of fear that they will bring the virus home with them. Some families refuse to let them return.