How Should Public Health Officials Respond When Important Local Rituals Increase Risk of Contagion?

AMA J Ethics. 2020 Jan 1;22(1):E5-9. doi: 10.1001/amajethics.2020.5.


During the 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, people were required by law to call a trained "safe burial" team to dispose of the body of a person who had died from Ebola. It took days for a team to arrive, however, due to limited resources and rural travel obstacles, so some villagers felt obliged to bury their loved ones themselves. Even with timely arrival of a team, there can be cultural priorities that deserve attention. One man's case discussed in this article suggests the need for Ebola responders to consider villagers' perspectives and possibilities for compromise.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude
  • Burial / ethics*
  • Burial / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Ceremonial Behavior*
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Cultural Competency*
  • Epidemics / ethics*
  • Epidemics / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Female
  • Health Personnel
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / ethics
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola* / epidemiology
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola* / transmission
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Moral Obligations
  • Public Health / ethics*
  • Public Health / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Risk
  • Rural Population
  • Safety*
  • Sierra Leone / epidemiology
  • Social Values