Ebola virus burial teams may have ‘saved thousands of lives’

Now new research suggests Red Cross volunteers who helped bury most of the bodies of Ebola victims in West Africa could have prevented more than 10,000 cases of the deadly disease.  More than 28,000 people were infected with Ebola in 2014-2015. Of those, 11,310 people died.  The worst affected countries were Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  A major part of the response was ensuring the safe burials of people who had died of Ebola. The bodies of victims were particularly toxic.  Community funerals, where people helped wash the bodies of their loved ones, contributed to so many people becoming infected in the earlier stages of the outbreak. Within months, the epidemic had become the worst public health emergency of modern times. The study, published in the PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases journal, used statistical modelling to measure the impact of the Red Cross safe and dignified burial programme.  Researchers focussed on 45 unsafe community burials and the 310 people who were identified as having had contact with the infected bodies. They found, on average, just over two people went on to develop Ebola for every unsafe community burial that took place.  The bigger risk was to those who cared for a loved one with Ebola before their death. Researchers found many more infections could have been prevented if the sick were treated in hospital rather than by their families and communities.  However, using these estimates, the study suggested safe and dignified burials by Red Cross volunteers prevented between 1,411 and 10,452 cases of Ebola.  The authors said these are conservative estimates.  They highlighted a number of limitations in the study, including the challenges of collecting very personal and sensitive information about funerals, and the length of time between when some of the burials took place and when the data was collected.

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