Burial of Ugandan Ebola victim shows flash of confrontation

Grandmother who died of Ebola is buried by workers in protective suits and gloves amid clashes with locals fearing contamination after the disease spread into Uganda

  • The woman and her five-year-old grandson died after being exposed in Congo
  • Family returned to Uganda on an unguarded path, defeating border screenings
  • More than 1,400 people have died since latest outbreak was declared in August 

A woman who died of Ebola was buried by workers in protective clothing last night amid clashes with worried locals after the disease spread into Uganda. 

The woman died after her family was exposed to Ebola in Congo and returned to Uganda on an unguarded footpath – defeating the screening measures in place at border posts. 

Her five-year-old grandson also died after vomiting blood. 

As the woman, identified as Agnes Mbambu, was buried last night, the burial team faced aggression from a group of youngsters who feared they would be exposed to the deadly virus if the burial was not carried out thoroughly. 

Workers wearing protective clothing bury Agnes Mbambu, a 50-year-old grandmother who died of Ebola along with her five-year-old grandson in Uganda 

One young man brandished a stick and warned them that ‘you will not leave this place if you do not bury the coffin and fill the whole place with soil’. 

More than 1,400 people have died since this outbreak was declared in August, and the response has been hampered by misinformation and fear in a region that had never faced Ebola before. 

The disease can spread quickly via close contact with bodily fluids of those infected. Wary residents have attacked health workers or fled.  

The need for safe burials conflicts with traditional customs of having loved ones wash and dress the corpse. 

Burying Ms Mbambu took all day and into the night as health workers pulled together the means to do it safely.  

Villagers look on from a distance as the coffin arrives for the burial of Agnes Mbambu, in the Ugandan village of Karambi near the border with Congo  

Workers wearing protective clothing prepare to bury Agnes Mbambu, a process which sparked clashes with locals who feared they would be contaminated 

Tensions grew as the burial team changed into protective suits in the glow of car lights. 

When the team’s leader didn’t commit to covering the coffin with soil to the young men’s satisfaction – it was not clear why – the confrontation almost ended in violence.     

Ugandan authorities are now trying to keep Ebola from spreading by tracking everyone who had contact with the infected family. 

At least 98 such people have been identified, the World Health Organization’s Uganda office said.

Community participation is key, and the coming days will test Uganda’s ability to contain the virus in an area that is a hotbed of anti-government sentiment. 

Kasese, the town nearest the outbreak, has been tense since the central government jailed a popular traditional leader in late 2016, accusing him of trying to form a breakaway republic.

A medical worker carries a bunch of protective rubber gloves used to prevent infection, at the hospital where the first cross-border Ebola victim was isolated in the town of Bwera, Uganda 

Days ago, the leader’s mother died. Her funeral is expected this weekend. Now the government says it is restricting public gatherings in order to contain Ebola, which could lead to anger among those who wanted to meet and mourn.

Although Uganda has faced multiple Ebola outbreaks in the past, this is the first time this mountainous area has experienced the virus.

Among some people, even those who know the victims, suspicions are high.

The burial of Ms Mbambu, Uganda’s second Ebola victim, originally was meant to take place some 20 kilometers (12 miles) away, near her father’s grave. 

But the community there rejected her, said Rhoda Katsumbiro, a resident of the village where her coffin now rests.

‘The family members there, they thought they would be affected,’ Katsumbiro said. ‘They feared. We had to bring her here.’

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