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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 April, 2005, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
Killer virus hits Angolan rituals
Experts from Medecins Sans Frontieres help train volunteers in a hospital in Luanda
Health workers have been targeted by suspicious locals
Angolans are being urged to change their traditional rituals for burying loved ones in a bid by health workers to stamp out the deadly Marburg virus.

At least 215 people - mainly in the northern province of Uige - have died from the Ebola-like bug since October.

Angolans traditionally embrace and kiss their dead in a final farewell - but just touching an infected corpse can lead to infection, say experts.

Some in Uige have also given up their traditional greeting to friends, a hug.

Locals welcomed a reporter by touching right legs covered by trousers, AP news agency reported.

Deputy Health Minister Jose Van Dunem said "cultural barriers" were the key problem they now faced in stemming the epidemic.

He told the BBC's Zoe Eisenstein that church and community leaders as well as traditional healers were being brought in to help change attitudes.

Some health workers have also come under attack from local people who believe they have brought in the disease.

'Last tribute'

"You know that all these African societies are very much tied to ancestry, and also the way you treat deceased beloved ones," said Celso Malavoloneke, a Unicef spokesman in the country.

"For the people here not to be able to pay their last tribute and respect to deceased beloved ones, that's particularly hard. And the whole issue of the social, cultural and anthropological impact of the disease is becoming more and more important".

Dr Francois Libama, who spent three weeks in Uige, said families were being encouraged to allow medical teams to bury their loved ones, while in their presence.

The haemorrhagic fever caused by Marburg is similar to the Ebola virus, but United Nations health experts say it appears to have an even higher mortality rate.

Early symptoms are diarrhoea, stomach pains, nausea and vomiting, which give way to bleeding. There is no known cure.

The UN has urged neighbouring countries to adopt screening measures against travellers anyone visiting from Angola.

How the spread of the disease is being prevented

Marburg virus
04 Apr 05 |  Medical notes
Marburg outbreak worst recorded
31 Mar 05 |  Africa
Country profile: Angola
11 Feb 05 |  Country profiles

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