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Ebola and bribery?



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With today’s newscasts full of stories about a second Dallas healthcare worker contracting the Ebola virus, people are focused on this woman and the 75 other Dallas healthcare workers (and their pets!) being monitored for symptoms. So what does this have to do with our usual subject of international corruption? Plenty, as it turns out.

More than 4,000 people in Africa have died from the virus. The international community has put on a full court press to contain the virus. But families in Liberia, which is at the epicenter of the epidemic, are reportedly bribing retrieval teams to let them keep their loved ones’ bodies and give them traditional burials. Traditional Liberian funerals include surviving relatives washing the body and keeping it around for a wake that sometimes lasts days, while family and friends stop by to kiss the corpse before it is buried in a shallow grave in the family grave plot nearby.

The Liberian government has ordered that bodies be collected and cremated, and sends retrieval teams out to collect the bodies. But according to news reports, grieving relatives are paying $40 to $150 for death certificates that don’t show Ebola as the cause of death. Having Ebola carries a stigma in Liberia, and it is important to some families that they don’t have to admit that Grandma had the disease. The Liberian government has said that the retrieval teams do not have the authority to issue death certificates, but for $40, they are doing so anyway.

Half of the Ebola deaths have happened in Liberia, so one can imagine the confusion of a young man who lived next door to an Ebola victim. He told the Wall Street Journal that the government tells its citizens to call the body retrieval teams and not to touch the bodies themselves, but then the teams come and don’t insist on taking the corpses. “They told us not to bury the bodies. They told us to call. But now I am not sure if they are the ones trying to eradicate this virus or to make it grow.”

So a small bribe still carries the day in some locations, even in the face of a catastrophic dilemma. Companies doing business, or contemplating doing business, in west Africa are understandably wary of doing so now, and that’s the last thing this impoverished area needs.