South Africa

Mortuaries accused of mixing corpses which increases Covid-19 infections

Pretoria - Mortuaries in the city have been accused of storing bodies of people who had tested positive for Covid-19 with those who died of other causes.

In a voice note, a city mortuary was accused of recklessly storing the body of a deceased with another who had died from Covid-19 complications.

A pastor recorded in the voice note, said a private pathologist declared the deceased Covid-19 negative, but the body got infected in storage and nearly wiped out the family.

A Mahube resident said because their loved one had one tested negative for Covid-19, the casket was open during the funeral. They only discovered later that the deceased had shared a compartment with a Covid-19 positive person.

Regulations state that bodies of people who were positive for Covid-19 should be stored in a designated space and not mixed with the rest. “The problem with us, or rather the poor black communities, is that we don't know the rules and regulations.

“We take what we get from the mortuaries and we don't want to cause tension and hold the mortuary to account for wrongdoing because that is traditionally unacceptable. The funeral should be as smooth as possible,” he said.

Mortuaries admitted that they were inundated with corpses due to the second wave.

A worker at a mortuary in Mamelodi east told the Pretoria News that overcrowding forced them to put two adults and a child in one compartment.

Speaking on condition of anonymity he said: “The numbers of deaths are high; we went from burying three people on a weekend to 12; we can't keep up. But we have to honour people who hold policies with us.”

He said some corpses shared shelves due to a lack of space. “There was a time when we had three people in a compartment, and one was Covid-19 positive.”

The City of Tshwane said the facility in question was operating without a certificate of competency, and in an investigation, it discovered that out of 60 body compartments, only 12 were properly functional.

Other allegations were that the drain of the mortuary was not working effectively, and the facility was a health hazard.

A Mabopane parlour worker said they often had to put two people in a shelf because only a few were cold enough. "The sicknesses can be contaminated at any time. The public and the people who are working there are at risk.”

Muzi Hlengwa, president of the National Funeral Practitioners Association of South Africa, said: “Right now we are experiencing an overload.”

Hlengwa said the industry had requested that the government help smaller directors by urgently building mass cold storage facilities that can be used by different funeral parlours who don't have their own refrigeration.

A medical technologist from Legae Hospital in Mabopane said when national plans for managing dead bodies in pandemics were exhausted it leads to the piling up of bodies, issues with storage and refrigeration, and decomposition which increased risk of infection.

Dr Thabsio Malahlela from Mamelodi Regional Hospital said corpses carried a viral load, and while it could not cough and sneeze or transfer the virus, it remained infectious as the body still had fluids and could transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused Covid-19.

“Dead bodies have body fluids, and saliva. These are secretions that are a source of infections. Therefore bodies of Covid-19 victims should either be buried or cremated with care,” Malahlela said.

The World Health Organisation said workers who routinely handled corpses were at risk of contracting tuberculosis, blood-borne viruses like Ebola, hepatitis and HIV, and gastrointestinal infections like E.coli and typhoid fever.

Pretoria News

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