Ebola dead left in Sierra Leone streets as gravediggers strike

Ebola dead left in Sierra Leone streets as gravediggers strike
The highly contagious bodies of those dead from Ebola have been left in the streets across Sierra Leone, where burial teams have gone on strike over unpaid wages, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation has reported.

Ebola: Evolution of an epidemic (INTERACTIVE MAP)

The country's deputy health minister Madina Rahman said in a Wednesday radio interview that the strike was over a week-long overdue risk allowance to burial teams, and added that the issue had been “resolved.”

"The health ministry is going to investigate the delay in the health workers not receiving their money," Rahman said, according to The Associated Press.

The strike’s organizers have not yet said whether the comment meant that their walkout was over.

On Tuesday, burial teams in two districts of Sierra Leone, including the capital, Freetown, announced they were on strike.

"We have decided to stop working until they pay us our weekly risk allowance," a burial worker Tamba Nyandemoh told Reuters, arguing the teams had not been paid for two weeks.

Nyandemoh explained the teams, each consisting of 12 workers, bury between 17 and 35 bodies a day. Workers are paid $100 a week for the job.

Clearing the dead from homes and streets is essential in fighting the virus, as the bodies are highly contagious. The job has to be carried out carefully by teams of professionals, wearing special gear.

Sierra Leone has been among the African nations worst hit by Ebola, with more than 600 people killed by the disease, according to the WHO.

A member of a striking burial team who wished not to disclose his identity, said he did not care “if dead bodies litter all over the city” if that helps draw attention to the workers’ hardships.

"All we want is our money,” he said, Reuters reported. “We have been stigmatised in our communities, so let the government try to pay us our money."

Health Ministry spokesman Sidie Yahya Tunis earlier described the situation with delayed payments to burial workers as a "very embarrassing" one.

Sierra Leone authorities also came under fire Tuesday for letting a shipping container with protective medical gear and mattresses from the US be held up at a port for more than a month, while the country was in urgent need of the container’s contents.

An opposition politician, Alpha Chernor Bah, who arranged for the shipment from the US, lashed out at the authorities for mishandling the aid.

"The country is in a crisis period, and there should be no red tape in clearing the container from the port," he told AP.

‘Enormous economic cost’

The World Bank estimated on Wednesday that the Ebola epidemic could cost West African nations $32.6 billion by the end of 2015, if the outbreak continues raging and spreads excessively beyond the three worst affected countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

"The enormous economic cost of the current outbreak to the affected countries and the world could have been avoided by prudent ongoing investment in health systems-strengthening," World Bank president Jim Yong Kim said in a statement.

If the epidemic is contained in 2014, the economic impact on the region will still be serious, costing West Africa between $3.8 to $9 billion, the bank estimated.

A total of 3,439 people out of 7,492 infected have died from Ebola, according to the most recent estimate by the World Health Organization. The outbreak, the worst on record, has been most severe in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The first cases have recently been recorded in the US and Spain, prompting fears of the deadly virus spreading further across continents.