Family members can now bury their loved ones who succumb to COVID-19 according to the latest guidelines from the Ministry of Health.
Previously, the ministry of health had directed that the burial of persons who succumb to the coronavirus disease is supposed to be carried out by trained health workers in company of a limited number of people, to guarantee safe and dignified burials, commonly used when dealing with highly infectious diseases.
In addition to this, the body also had to be handled by health workers who would then hand it over to burial teams who would transport the body for burial. As a matter of fact, teams from Uganda Red Cross Society have been carrying out the safe burials of all COVID-19 suspected and confirmed deaths.
The new guidelines however indicate that henceforth, teams will just disinfect the body of the deceased and wrap it in a burial bag before handing it to family members for burial.
Irene Nakasiita, the public relations manager URCS says that the new protocols are needed because they can no longer meet the costs associated with carrying out safe and dignified burials.
“We were doing this on behalf of government but government did not have money to put it in. We did it for like 4 months and it was too expensive. When we asked government to chip in and fund, they did not have a budget. So ministry of Health communicated that apparently they will be securing bodies and handing them over to families to bury,” said Nakasiita.
Eric Edwards Ofwono, the Infectious Disease Operations manager at URCS says now the burials will be overseen by district health teams.
George Okentho, the Commissioner in charge of safe and dignified burials at Ministry of Health says that the new protocols were issued after it was discovered that the remains of persons who succumb to the disease are not infectious.
“There is nothing like a safe and dignified burial in Uganda. The burials have been stopped after it was discovered that the disease is not contagious. The remains of the dead cannot spread the disease” Okentho said.
The burials have been an issue of contention with some thinking the burials are not necessary since there is no evidence to indicate that the disease can be spread from remains of the deceased.
Irene Nakasiita however opines that coronavirus is contagious and may require trained personnel to handle the dead. She also expressed concern over cultural practices in communities where people want to associate with the dead which poses a serious health risk.
“May be if they say Coronavirus is not highly infectious but the fact is that it is contagious” She said asserting that if the bodies are to be handed to families for burial, there has to be assurances that it will not be tampered with otherwise infections may occur.
“some communities want to associate with the dead and it is my concern. You find people who want to conduct cultural practices on their loved ones including those who insist they want to wrap dead ones in bark cloth. In this case, people should avoid tampering with the secured bodies in the name of cultural practices.” She said.
She said the Red Cross Society is ready to undertake the task of safe and dignified burials once government is ready to facilitate them. She notes that the URCS has built capacity to ensure safe burials for victims of infectious diseases with teams spread across all districts of Uganda.
The Red Cross Society says, around 50 burials had been so far conducted by their teams around the country. Ofwono adds with more predicted deaths, it will not be unsustainable for their teams to continue burying the COVID-19 victims. As of November 9, 2020, Uganda’s COVID-19 deaths stand at 133 with a cumulative total number of infections at 14,574.
According to the World Health Organization, while there is little evidence to show that the disease can be passed on through the remains of an infected person, it is important to take precautions since little is known about the disease.