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“We know how many bodies leave here a day and how many persons dies a day; we have records on them. He bypassed us, carried the people back there and they went and took the body from there. I want to see that doctor. They did it because the person who died is related to a big shot.” Jerry Dadzie, Hygienist Island Clinic ETU
Monrovia – The Island Clinic Ebola Treatment Unit was a scene of confusion on Monday, October 13, 2014 when a body collection team from the ministry of health tried to secretly take away the corpse of a 35-year-old woman who had died from the deadly Ebola virus.
The team sent accordingly on orders of Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bernice Dahn told FrontPageAfrica that they were sent for the body of a woman who was the daughter of Dahn’s special assistant who died from the disease last month.
“We were sent here from the ministry, to come and pick up one of our boss’ daughter that contracted this virus and she died in this unit,” said Sam P. Theoway, Ambulance driver. Continued Theoway: “We are here to pick up the body and then carry it to the site. We have been here since this morning, we met the health workers out here saying that they are not working, they are on strike and they are expecting all of us to be on strike”.
Theoway said he was told by health workers who control the removal of patients who succumb to the deadly Ebola virus that all bodies from the center were to be taken for cremation and was surprised that he and his crew were sent there to pick a special body.
“They say Red Cross will take all the bodies because it is Red Cross that is responsible for all bodies,” he said. “We did not explain our reason for coming here to them in detail and some of them responsible for the bodies in there are saying nobody is leaving the unit to go anywhere.”
Jerry Dadzie, a hygienist who controls the collection of bodies from the Island Clinic Ebola Treatment Unit said he was shocked that people in high positions of authority could flout their own guidelines on the issue of burial for Ebola bodies, while at the same time refusing other poor people the remains of their loved ones or at least their last respect of choosing a burial site for them.
“There is a doctor in there, I’m told gave a body out to some people today, I want to see him. He dressed, bypassed us. Anybody who comes here for bodies consult the body team because we have records on all the bodies,” he said.
“We know how many bodies leave here a day and how many persons die a day; we have records on them. He bypassed us, carried the people back there and they went and took the body from there. I want to see that doctor. They did it because the person who died is related to a big shot.”
Dadzie was sad that the government was playing games with the issue of Ebola dead bodies and how they should be disposed of. He said the government had told people working at Isolation centers in Monrovia to allow burial teams to cremate bodies of people who die from Ebola, but he said it only works for the poor and people without connections.
“It happened at JFK, that Orlando, a hygienist and my personal friend died; when we went for the body, they said they were taking it to the crematorium to burn it,” he said. “We said we need the body, we will bury the body, but they said it was an executive order that no Ebola body be buried. I don’t know where that order came from. They told us they would burn the body and give us the ashes and we accepted.”
Dadzie said the 35-year-old woman who died had connections with officials at the ministry of health and that they had ordered the body to be removed from among the rest of the dead bodies that were to be picked up by the Red Cross burial team.
“Today they came for her body to put it in the casket and go and bury it. They are not treating everybody fairly. What happens to those of us who are working, what becomes of us if we die?” He asked. Members of the crew that had gone to pick another body were dressed in Personal Protective Equipment for almost an hour and the security at the gate would not let them into the hospital until they received permission to allow them to enter.
One of the angry masked men threatened to take off the PPE because it was so hot and he could no longer bear the heat. He argued that those who sent them had not explained the reason for taking one person’s mortal remains and leaving the others behind and the worst part was that they could not identify the dead person they came to collect.
“They have so many bodies in there and they did not label the bodies, no name on the bodies, so how can we identify the person? We don’t know the person if we knew the person; we can’t just take somebody,” he said angrily. “But then if they are cremating bodies, they should not have allowed us to come here to take a specific body and carry it. They should have told us to take all the bodies and carry them.”
As the men were waiting for those who sent them to make the right arrangement one of the medical doctors who works at the facility only identified as Dr. Kollie emerged and asked the securities to allow the men to take the body away. Dr. Kollie seeing journalists filming the scene stated that they go into the ETU to see the head of the clinic, some agreed to enter, but others stayed behind to see if the body would be given to the team that had come to pick it up.
The hospital administrator telling them that journalists were not allowed inside the center as tension was high and health workers were threatening to strike yelled at the journalists who were able to enter. Phone calls were made to Dr. Bernice Dahn and she used her connections at the center to get the body out. The crew was able to take the body away to an unknown location for burial. All efforts made to reach Dr. Dahn proved futile as her phone was switched off.
Onlookers at the scene were shocked after watching what had transpired at the Center. Fatu Bah, who had been going to the isolation center to check on her husband for the past three weeks expressed disappointment over the situation. “I’ve been coming here almost one month since I brought my husband here but nobody to tell me what happened, but look at what’s going on here; so only rich people can see their family when they die from Ebola? She asked with tears in her eyes.
Reports gathered from people who work at the center says it is not the first time that this has happened. One health worker said this is a common practice at the government run ETU in Monrovia including the John F. Kennedy ETU. When the outbreak of the Ebola virus reached its peak with more deaths and Government unable to bury the number of dead bodies collected daily, President Sirleaf announced cremation of all Ebola dead.
The Liberian National Red Cross responsible for collection of bodies transports every Ebola related body and other suspected Ebola bodies to the Marshall cremation site for cremation, but Liberia having a culture where people normally refer memorializing their dead relatives during Decoration Day celebrated in March each year, some senior officials of government are now beating the system to have their dead relatives buried.
One source also told FrontPageAfrica that secret burial is ongoing at night by higher ups who do not want their dead relatives cremated. Contacts with the dead through burial has been cited as one of the modes of transmission of the virus, but higher-ups have turned to using health workers wearing PPEs to collect the bodies of their dead relatives for burial.