October 7, 2014 / 8:37 PM / 5 years ago

Sierra Leone's burial teams for Ebola victims strike over hazard pay

FREETOWN (Reuters) - Teams in charge of burying the bodies of Ebola victims in two districts of Sierra Leone have gone on strike over the non-payment of their weekly risk allowances, leaders of the group said on Tuesday.

A burial team wearing protective clothing prepare the body of a person suspected to have died of the Ebola virus for interment, in Freetown September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Christopher Black/WHO/Handout via Reuters

Because 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.

A strike by the burial teams could worsen the outbreak of Ebola in Sierra Leone, which recorded 121 deaths and scores of new infections in one of the single deadliest days last week. [ID:nL6N0S014W] The two districts the teams cover include the capital, Freetown.

“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.

The teams bury between 17 and 35 bodies daily, Nyandemoh said. Each team has 12 workers and every member of a team earns about $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, and the money has been released to the banks and will be paid them later this week. She did not comment on the demand for risk pay.

Abdul Rahman Rarker, a supervisor of a burial team, said the teams had been told of piles of dead bodies in and around Waterloo, in the Western Area Rural district south of the capital, Freetown.

“But we cannot bury them because we are risking our lives and those in charge are depriving us of our money,” he said.

“We don’t even care if dead bodies litter all over the city,” another member of the burial team said, requesting anonymity. “All we want is our money. We have been stigmatized in our communities, so let the government try to pay us our money.”

The Ebola outbreak, the worst on record has killed 3,439 out of a total of 7,492 cases through Oct. 1, mostly in West Africa, the World Health Organization said last week.

Since it started in the forest region of Guinea in March, the disease has spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. Cases have also been recorded in Nigeria, Senegal, the United States and Spain.

Reporting by Umaru Fofana; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Larry King

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