Finding the graves: SLED Family Reunification Program

Ann Epidemiol. 2021 Dec:64:15-22. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2021.05.003. Epub 2021 May 28.


Purpose: In 2015, the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agreed to consolidate data recorded by MoHS and international partners during the Ebola epidemic and create the Sierra Leone Ebola Database (SLED). The primary objectives were helping families to identify the location of graves of their loved ones who died from any cause at the time of the Ebola epidemic and creating a data source for epidemiological research. The Family Reunification Program fulfills the first SLED objective. The purpose of this paper is to describe the Family Reunification Program (Program) development, functioning, and results.

Methods: The MoHS, CDC, SLED Team, and Concern Worldwide developed, tested, and implemented methodology and tools to conduct the Program. Family liaisons were trained in protection of the personally identifiable information.

Results: The SLED Family Reunification Program allows families in Sierra Leone, who did not know the final resting place of their loved ones, to be reunited with their graves and to bring them relief and closure.

Conclusion: Continuing family requests in search of the burial place of loved ones 5 years after the end of the epidemic shows that the emotional burden of losing a family member and not knowing the place of burial does not diminish with time. As of February 2021, the Program continues and is described to allow its replication for other emergency events including COVID-19 and new Ebola outbreaks.

Keywords: Disaster burials; Ebola virus disease; Family Reunification; Graves; Sierra Leone Ebola Database.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Epidemics*
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Sierra Leone / epidemiology