21 March 2019

Liberia: Disco Hill Ebola Burial Site Running Out of Space?

Photo: Ministry of Health Uganda/East African
Health workers carry the corpse (file photo)

Once a burial ground for Ebola victims, the cemetery is now receiving unclaimed bodies those dead from non-infectious causes

The memorial burial site of victims of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), which is now also accommodating other dead bodies from Montserrado and Margibi counties, may soon degrade to the ranks of the Palm Grove Cemetery if caretakers and basic logistics are not given the needed attention.

Unlike any other grave site in the country the Disco Hill burial site, situated along the Robert field highway, and which is now a national cemetery, was for a few years back graded by all of its visitors during the commemoration of national decoration day as the one of the best cemeteries in the country.

Nowadays, the membership of the caretakers of the site has drastically declined due to lack of compensation from government in order to keep them at the site which is, unarguably a tourism site.

In his narration of the challenges on the grounds of the cemetery, the head of the caretakers, Kortoson M. Pellewuwan said the site is growing short of space for burial.

The tomb bearing some of the ashes of those who died as a result of contracting the EVD in 2014/2015

"Out of the five acres received from the people of Margibi since 2014, only two acres are now available. And this is worrisome because lots of dead bodies are transported here frequently for burial," Pellewuwan said.

He said street bodies and those whose families or relatives do not have the means to give them befitting burials at other cemeteries due to lack of money are transported to the site for burial.

"We do not refuse them. All we do is to verify that they are truly less fortunate people or are from charity organizations like Black Gate (HIV-AIDS compound), TB Annex as well as criminals who are murdered by mob justice," he added.

About the manpower catering to the site, he said they were twenty six between 2014 and 2015, but now they are only four actively involved with the care of the area.

"We were twenty six but due to the lack of incentives from government, majority of the workers here have left. Our number reduced to eight but even at that, government has not been able to look after us," he said, adding, "Even the four of us who are still keeping up this place are not well taken care of. I am the only one, in fact, on a regular stipend."

He said for seven months now the other three members of his team have not received any stipend and they may soon leave as others have done.

"The thing that should be appreciated here is that, on Decoration Day, no one comes here to clean a grave but lays his or her flowers and wreaths on the grave of his or her loved one(s). We do everything. Is this not a good thing?" he rhetorically asked.

Gaezohn Clarke, a resident of the ELWA community whose mother was buried at the site right after the EVD in 2015, said even though his mother did not die of Ebola, he saw it befitting to bury her at the Disco Hill EVD burial site.

"Even though it is sad to lose loved ones, giving one's loved one a befitting burial, particularly in a secure environment, is a very great achievement," Clarke said.

He said unlike other cemeteries which were encroached on over time by hard-core criminals, the Disco Hill burial site is secure and always clean.

"Things are no longer as they used to be here. We are seeing lots of challenges such as lack of proper care of the site," he said.

Rep. Tilberosa Tarponweh pays his tribute to the deceased at the Disco Hill Ebola Virus Disease's Victims' burial site

Margibi Electoral District #1, Tilberosa Tarponweh said he is moved annually to visit only the Disco Hill burial site, not because of political reason, but for love of the people who became victims by the deadly EVD.

"Whenever I come here I am overwhelmed by emotions from many people who visit this place on Decoration Day. I personal share tears imagining the way our people lost their lives in 2014 and 2015," Tarponweh said.

He said prior to the ashes and bones' being taken to the Disco Hill burial site, the cremation of Ebola victims was done in his neighborhood of Boys Town.

"I have a picture of the impact of the EVD in my mind, because I was here. I saw the many tears people shared for their loved ones, who lost their lives to the EVD. We all have to remember the effects of the EVD and learn never to fall prey to it anymore," he admonished.

Rep. Tarponweh said his office will work alongside all the relevant partners, including the National Public Health Heath Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), the ministries of Health and Internal Affairs to give the Disco Hill burial site a national memorial tourism status.

"For the sanity of this place, it is my kind appeal that those taking care of this place be compensated. We should not afford to lose this place to bush and other harmful practices," he concluded.

NPHIL Executive, Tolbert Nyenswah said the caretaker of the site; Kortoson Pellewuwan is right for saying that there are challenges confronting the upkeep of the site.

Nyenswah however pointed out that there is no need for the site to have too many staff, considering that there is no more national emergency.

"That place is not intended for the burial of just any kind of dead bodies. After the EVD, the only bodies that should buried there are those from TB Annex, and other areas where contagious diseases have hit a population. Other than those, no one is allowed to take a dead body there for burial on the basis of poverty," he said, adding that the NPHIL will investigate all burials done at the site in recent times.

Dr. Nyenswah said the NPHIL is working out a project proposal in order to make the Disco Hill burial site a tourism site.

"We need money to get that place up to a tourism standard," he said.

Nyenswah said the NPHIL is pleased that high profile individuals from Liberia and other parts of the world are now taking interest in visiting the Disco Hill burial site for research purposes, basically on the impact the EVD has created on the country and recommendations to the government for a prosperous future.

On Wednesday, March 13 this year, Madam Ronke Olawale, a PhD candidate in social work and anthropology at the Michigan University (USA), paid a research visit to the burial site to study the impact of EVD on the country.

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