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For all the hard work of the Zairian doctors and students and the expertise offered by the international aid workers, the hardest job of all falls to the 26 local Red Cross workers. They drive through the villages in a bright orange Renault truck, picking up bodies and wrapping them in plastic as infected blood oozes everywhere. Unless the family dares claim a body, it is driven out of town to a mass grave. Until msf arrived with protective gear, the Red Cross worked with bare hands; already three victims have died of the virus, and one more fell ill last week. The gravediggers are pariahs. When they walk down the street, the children scatter. Their families have left them. Each day, in fact, frightened residents are abandoning anyone who gets sick, even from common illnesses. Parents are shunning their children. One day last week a sickly looking young man sat in the middle of a soccer field, rocking back and forth. No one dared come near him.
--Reported by Andrew Purvis/Kikwit, with other bureaus