Robbing the dead of dignity – Thisday

The authorities should ensure that the dead are buried with deserved respect

The outcry over the abandonment of 600 corpses dumped at the mortuary facility of the Central Hospital Agbor in Ika South Local Council of Delta State is yet to abate. With only a holding capacity of just 60 corpses per time, the hospital has had to embark on some archaic practices. “The mortuary is old and relies on embalmment of bodies. We are currently making plans to conduct a mass burial for the unknown corpses in the mortuary,” said Medical Director of the hospital, Dr. Roy Maduka. He said that the health facility was battling to accommodate the corpses within the small space, while a mass burial would decongest the facility and create room for new bodies.

It is a measure of how much premium is placed on the human body in our country that even after they are dead, Nigerians are not treated with dignity. While many of these corpses have stayed for as long as eight years without members of the public coming forward to claim them, some new corpses are dumped at the facility by relatives or security operatives who bring in dead accident victims or dead armed robbers, thereby increasing the pile of bodies in the mortuary facility. But the large number of unclaimed corpses constitutes a major health hazard for workers, patients in the hospital and residents living around the hospital environment, especially at a time the country is battling bouts of disease outbreak. These congestions mean no proper embalmment or freezing will be done on the bodies, and they are piled on top of each other because of the little space available.

Apart from the health hazards associated with this situation, congestions degrade the dignity of the corpses. Unfortunately, this unhygienic practice is not exclusive to Central Hospital, Agbor. It is a national challenge. From indigent families who cannot pick the accumulated bills demanded by the hospitals, to accident victims and those killed by rogue elements in the police and other security outfits, thousands of unclaimed corpses are lying in different morgues across the country, some for years. That has encouraged a lot of unwholesome practices by mortuary attendants, most of whom are unprofessional.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said one of the ways to provide respect for the dead is for mortuaries to give each corpse the dignity it deserves through freezing, cabinet placement and proper labelling for easy identification. Unfortunately, these cannot be provided in facilities where bodies are piled upon each other. This clearly is the case with the Central Hospital, Agbor, though it is not an isolated case. Several government-owned hospitals across the country have, within the last one year, raised the alarm over high number of unclaimed corpses in their mortuaries.

Meanwhile, we call on the Delta State government to treat every unclaimed body in the hospital with the respect it deserves. It should provide for the hospital, a state-of-the-art mortuary facility with large capacity for corpses. It should also give unclaimed bodies that have stayed for years at the mortuary proper burial, and put policies in place that would enable relatives to claim their loved ones’ corpses for proper burial. While it may not be the fault of the hospital management or the state government for the large unclaimed bodies in the mortuary facility, they should make conscious efforts to ensure every corpse is buried with dignity irrespective of how long they may have been abandoned.

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