Earlier in 2019, some 50 students gathered in the Pavillon Palasis-Prince at Université Laval. They were there with the shared goal of participating in the Canadian Red Cross Social Innovation Challenge to propose solutions to address the Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). That was how the “Kumi” team came to be.
 
In Swahili, a language spoken in the DRC, Kumi means 10, and we were the tenth team. As a group of people with diverse backgrounds, we drew on our differences, experiences, and stories to put forward a solution that was not only innovative, but that would reach as many people as possible. Hence the question at the heart of our discussions: “Why doesn’t the Red Cross use transparent body bags for safe and dignified burials?” It was merely through talking about this simple issue that we came up with the idea of a transparent body bag. The foundation of our solution was the hope of making a humanitarian response even more humane.
 
We wanted to work on the issue of safe and dignified burials (SDBs) — in other words, how to better handle the bodies of those who have died from Ebola, which is an extremely sensitive subject at the core of the epidemic. Fortunately, our teammate Sandra, who is from the DRC, guided us in our thinking by telling us what would or would not be culturally acceptable in the country. So, quite naturally during our discussions, this idea came up to help communities conduct their cultural funeral rites while preventing the virus from spreading.

Aid workers in protective gear
 
It is important to note that “at least 20% of new Ebola infections occur during burials of deceased Ebola patients” (WHO, 2014). The existing opaque body bags used by SDB teams reflect a Western worldview, while in many Sub-Saharan African countries, funeral rituals are very important to local communities, since they allow the family to honour the deceased before burial. A great deal of effort has been made to involve communities in safe and dignified burials, but many people feel a lingering mistrust. In hopes of helping families become more accepting of safety procedures, using a transparent body bag would let them see the body of the deceased without touching them directly.
 
Social innovation challenge team

While working on this solution, we made sure to look at our ideas from a Congolese social perspective by accounting for cultural practices that could conflict with the idea of a transparent body bag. Our solution is designed to limit the spread of the virus through an approach that aims to involve and educate local communities, thereby enhancing their trust in humanitarian teams and burial procedures.
 
The Innovation Challenge was a very rewarding experience. A number of Red Cross professionals were in attendance to answer our questions and support us in our efforts. The discussions unquestionably gave us a glimpse of the reality of the field and the problems that humanitarian workers can face on a daily basis.

Related stories: 
Ebola: The impact we don't see
Inside the response to provide safe and dignified burials in the face of epidemics 
The difficult and thankless fight against Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo