Liberia ‘Abolishes’ Cremation as Ebola Resurges on Border


While it has mostly disappeared from mainstream media headlines in the United States, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa appears to be no nearer to an end. Liberia, a nation that had proclaimed near-victory against the virus, reported a resurgence of cases near its border with Sierra Leone, but pushed on with a ban on cremation triggered by public demand.

The Liberian Observer, one of the nation’s largest newspapers, reports that the government has decided to put an end to the cremation process after significant public backlash. Liberia had previously required that all Ebola victims be cremated, so as to avoid contamination through traditional burial practices. Such practices require the washing of the body, which would put those performing the ceremony in contact with the deceased’s bodily fluids.

“Cremation of dead bodies is not and has never been a part of the Liberian culture, but the Liberian government was forced, during the heat of the Ebola crisis, to initiate the practice in an effort to curtail further spread of the virus,” notes the newspaper. The Observer adds that forced cremation caused many individuals to hide the bodies of the dead and bury them as tradition demanded in secret. Many of those who refused to follow government orders, in turn, contracted Ebola.

Establishing locations in which government officials could properly incinerate the bodies also proved to be a significant problem. In October, one community rebelled against a local crematory, protesting its proximity to where they lived and alleging that the fumes it emitted were endangering the population. With protests at a fever pitch and the threat of individuals hiding bodies from the government too great to bear, the government has closed down its crematories and instead resolved to open a new cemetery.

The cemetery will be located in the nation’s capital, Monrovia, and will consist of a 50-acre site with accommodations for both Christians and Muslims, the BBC reports. Cremation is looked down upon so much that the government will also erect a “memorial” for those cremated before the establishment of this cemetery. Liberian Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah told the media the center would allow for “dignified and safe burials, where people can practise their rituals but not touch dead bodies.”

The establishment of the new burial site follows news of a resurgence of the virus in the western region of the nation, close to the border with Sierra Leone. While the latter nation has not yet been able to even partially subdue the spread of Ebola, Liberia had reported some minor gains in fighting the virus. Multiple reports surfaced yesterday of a new cluster of cases on the western border, however. While Liberia had hoped to record no new cases of Ebola between now and the new year, western Grand Cape Mount County recorded 49 cases this month— 27 confirmed and the others suspected but unconfirmed. Reuters notes that 3,413 people have died in Liberia, of the more than 7,000 total deaths attributable to Ebola since the outbreak began.