FREETOWN – Burial workers in Sierra Leone have dumped dead bodies in the street outside a hospital to protest authorities’ failure to pay bonuses for handling Ebola victims, in the latest strike to hamper the fight against the worst known outbreak of the virus.
A spokesman for the striking workers in the eastern town of Kenema, who asked not to be identified, said they had not been paid their weekly hazard allowance for seven weeks.
Authorities accepted that the money had not been paid but said that all the striking members of the Ebola Burial Team would be dismissed.
“Displaying corpses in a very, very inhumane manner is completely unacceptable,” said the spokesman for the National Ebola Response Centre, Sidi Yahya Tunis.
He added that the central government had paid the money to the district health management team. “Somebody somewhere needs to be investigated (to find out) where these monies have been going,” he told Reuters.
Residents said up to 15 bodies had been abandoned, three of them at the hospital entrance to stop people entering.
The head of the district Ebola Response Team, Abdul Wahab Wan, said the bodies had included those of two babies, and that some had been displayed around the hospital.
Sierra Leone has become the biggest hotspot in the West African Ebola epidemic, which has killed nearly 5,500 people since March.
While the outbreak appears to be coming under control in neighboring Liberia and Guinea, infection rates have accelerated in Sierra Leone, prompting the head of a special U.N. mission on Ebola to admit on Monday that it would not meet targets for containing the outbreak by early December.
Despite pledges of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, and the deployment of troops by the United States and Britain, the weakness of health care systems and infrastructure in the worst-affected countries has complicated the fight.
Health care workers have repeatedly gone on strike in Liberia and Sierra Leone over lack of pay and dangerous working conditions.
Two weeks ago, health workers walked off the job at a clinic in Bo, the only Ebola treatment center in southern Sierra Leone.