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july 16 2017 july 16, 2017

6 Sunday Monitor
Sunday Monitor

How unclaimed bodies are choking hospitals, districts

Crisis. Life is often a puzzle for
each one of us. Death is sometimes,
too, for many. Imagine dying, say in
an accident, and your body is taken
to the mortuary but no one claims
it. Others die alone in hospitals and
their bodies end up in the mortuaries
without their relatives knowledge.
What happens thereafter is a
burdensome process, writes
Frederic Musisi.

Kampala. You live as long

as you are remembered, goes a
Russian proverb.
The saying brings hope of eter-
nal life to some, but means little
for the many others already for-
gotten by the time they breathe
their last.
Uganda is one of the African
countries with the highest num-
ber of road accidents, according Tough job. A mortuary worker cleans a gurney after disposing of a decomposing
to World Health Organisation. On body at Kawolo hospital mortuary in Lugazi Municipality. PHOTO BY MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI
the other hand, malaria and re-
spiratory diseases top the leading bureaucracy to secure a vehicle and by four days, on the day we visited,
causes of death in hospitals, ac- fuel, to pick up the bodies for burial and the scene was not for the faint
cording to Ministry of Health. at a cemetery 16km away. hearted.
Most of those people, depend- Two bodies swarmed by maggots Like in eastern Uganda, in Lugazi
ing on status, will be accorded that wriggled about the floor of the officials not only struggle to mobilise
befitting send-offs and mourned mortuary were overdue for pick-up a vehicle to pick up the bodies, but
long after by family and friends. they cannot get plastic bags in which
Their lifetimes will be recounted.
Their graves will be dug well and
Where problem lies to wrap the deadsome are buried
naked and others in the attires they
cemented after interment, for donned, if at all, at the time of death.
some flowers will be laid, and
memories will be held forever. T he district health inspector,
when contacted referred to this
reporter to the Chief Administrative
Polices Dr Byaruhanga admits that
its true local authorities/councils
But thats not how the story drag foot on the matter due to finan-
ends for everyone. Officer (CAO), who was neither cial constraints, because this is not a
Morgue. City mortuary-Mulago, which is operated by Kampala Capital City Authority. PHOTO BY MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI in office at the time nor picked/
There are hundreds of bodies matter budgeted for, but at the same
that go unclaimed at mortuaries For burial. People collect a body from Lyantonde Hospital mortuary recently. PHOTO BY CLEOPHAS TUKAMARWA return our repeated calls. The time says, They are just not doing
across the country every year and Thankless health inspector, however, said it is their jobs.
with the breakdown of facilities because it near several black spots of the woman had been picked and which truck now. take the decomposing body to the task. A not possible to put a block figure There is wide-held belief that some
at some hospitals, the situation on the road. brought here by police two days The hospital mortuary is grap- cemetery, 15km away. The driver, mortuary to how much the district spends of the unclaimed bodies are used for
is unspeakably devastating when Officials at the hospital rel- law earlier. The Local Council (LC) pling with shortage of several sounding as if being burdened worker on picking up bodies from hospital study purposes in medical institu-
they [bodies] start decomposing. ish every minute traffic officers 1 who called police to the scene essentials, from embalming com- by more important errands, said performs that serves five districts. tions in the country but the head of
According to the director of spend on the tarmac to check er- Section 26 where she was found did not know pounds to kits used in postmor- the ambulance was out of fuel but his duty The hospital calls us every anatomy department at Makerere
Health Services in police, Dr Mo- rant drivers, but otherwise not a of the 1935 her but the doctors established tem. would handle the assignment first at Moroto time to pick up the bodies, and as University, Dr William Buwembo,
Public Health hospital. you know this is not one of those
ses Byaruhanga, a body becomes single week goes by without road she had been intoxicated and gang After three days, the worst thing in the morning after refuel- told this newspaper that it is true
Act, amended PHOTO BY enjoyable things to do. And it is not
classified as unclaimed when no carnage if the men and women in 2000, raped. was starting to happen: her semi- ing. STEPHEN ARIONG
sometimes we use them but the is-
kinfolks or friends claim them for in white are not deployed. Acci- The mortuary attendant gave corpulent frame had started de- Because it is the responsibil- like you pick them [bodies] at once sue is not about scarcity or plenty
imposes so you save the cost. They can
burial and to make matters worse dents with more than three fatali- on local this reporter the life depressing composing, and the sickly stink ity of local authorities to dispose of them, the biggest problem every
when police cannot identify com- ties spell burden for management authorities the access to the facility for three unbearable, but the mortuary of unclaimed bodies, the hospital call you like on Monday, and again hospital is grappling with is how to
munity members or anyone to because the hospitals functional responsibility days, including volunteering the attendant kept saying the situ- administrator further tasked the on Saturday, its annoying. This is dispose them of.
notify. mortuary can accommodate only to remove and necessary information but re- ation was not that bad because ambulance driver to claim for fuel not something budgeted for in our In April, patients and health work-
This is common for us because three bodies. bury bodies ferred to management for official it is only one body around today from the district. If this is what budget, so we have to look for the ers deserted Lyantonde Hospital,
police pick bodies every other day If the bodies are not claimed of destitute comments on the problem of un- (Wednesday). happens to all unclaimed bodies, money from within, the inspector whose mortuary was constructed in
from accident scenes, bars, hotels within three days they are then persons and claimed bodies. the life lesson is that each per- noted. 1955 to accommodate only three bod-
of unclaimed Last year Moroto hospital,
and on streets. Postmortems are relocated to a nearby decrepit bodies. The hospital head was uncoop- Grim path from death to burial son deserves to notify one or two as he cautioned the trio to load the spared the cemetery land. noted, wraps each body in a back- ies but now handles more than 10 per
at times conducted to ascertain mortuary without a refrigerator erative, at first requested for time, Early that morning the hospi- people of their whereabouts at all remaining two bodies as well to be The problem is that many of the clothwhich slows down the decom- which is one of the overburdened week, over a stench emanating from
the cause of death, the work is as management engages the Lu- The law, and later referred to the Ministry tal management had notified of- times. buried at once, now that no claimant cemeteries were located at prime position processso that in the event hospitals, mooted selling off unclaimed bodies in the mortuary.
designed unclaimed bodies to universities
done, but then we get stranded gazi municipal authorities to pick during the of Health in Kampala. Hence the ficials concerned at the district The ambulance driver eventu- had shown up, because he wont al- places, so as times changed it become that any claimants step forward, the At Moroto hospital, the picture is
with the bodies, Dr Byaruhanga them up for burial. withholding of the hospital name headquarters, which are situated ally secured fuel at around 11am low to do someone elses job. prime land for target, explained Dr remains are easily exhumed and and other research and training quite grotesque as sometimes the
British colonial institutions.
recently told Sunday Monitor. On any given sunny day, as the administration, to protect the identity of the mor- within a spitting distance. The re- on Thursday. But it was better Burial is another agonising exer- Daniel Okello, the Kampala Capital taken for decent burial. body nearly rots away in the mortu-
Only a small fraction, he added, process drags, the stink and the also ensured tuary attendant, who pitiably sponse was more sickening. That watching from the distance, as the cise; the driver, who returned after City Authority (KCCA)s deputy di- The case in Lugazi is worse. The Mulago hospital pathologist, Dr ary because there is no burial ground.
die in hospitals and their bodies swarm of bluebottle houseflies that each of earns Shs200,000 per month. the vehicle usually allocated for mortuary attendant and his two roughly one hour and 15 minutes, rector of Public Health and Environ- Kawolo hospital administrator, Mr Sylvester Onzivua, in a separate At Masaka hospital the story is the
go unclaimed. that colonise the area can shake the 16 districts His two sidekicks who are body pick-ups had broken down workers removed the body from had left the duo behind to earn their ment. Haruna Wamala, said unclaimed interview said the problem same.
However, this is near to custom- ones faith. at the time of charged with picking up unclaimed and there was no money to fuel the freezer after sprinkling it with pay. At City mortuary-Mulago, operated bodies, which are usually accident is aggravated because local Problem is, no matter how the
ary in the Karamoja sub-region independence bodies, which at times are decom- the alternative. paraffin. by KCCA, Dr Okello said they handle victims, overwhelm the facility. governments dont have budgets subject is discussed the duty of dis-
where [some] relatives abandon Unidentified, unclaimed had a public posing, for burial at the district That Wednesday afternoon, two The ambulance driver, who did The unenviable job [dispose-of] at least 10 unclaimed In festive holidays, we handle as for such thing which makes it posing of unclaimed bodies remains
cemetery. difficult to even convince them to
their departed ones in mortuaries. The dead woman, who ap- cemetery are every month handed male boda boda accident victims not want his truck stained, had also Section 26 of the 1935 Public Health bodies every week and roughly 500 many as 10 unknown bodies yet we a responsibility of local authorities,
A senior official at one of the hos- peared somewhere in her 30s, lay And for Shs50,000 to split equally as sal- were brought by a police pickup managed to secure two sisal sacks, Act, amended in 2000, imposes on lo- every year. Police pick up bodies are constrained by space in the mor- realise that its their duty. according to the law, but each one is
pitals told Sunday Monitor that in naked on the gurney for about 30 long these ary for full time employment. truck to the mortuary. It was after which were first steeped in petrol. cal authorities the responsibility to from accidents scenes, bars, streets tuary, but normally we usually have Health workers are not supposed battling its own problems.
cemeteries to be burying unclaimed bodies but
circumstances when relatives are minutes as the mortuary atten- served the After two days, the area police the mortuary attendant had paced Not even petrol/paraffin and the remove and bury bodies of destitute and other places, in Kampala, Wakiso at least three unclaimed bodies every Maybe it is time to amend the
compelled to take away their dant at one of the main hospitals that picked up the woman, relayed back and forth, with advice to the assortment of mixed liquid soap persons and of unclaimed bodies. and Mukono. week, Mr Haruna said. At times we in some places you find it is the law to bring it up to date with cur-
purpose until case because local authorities are
dead, especially the children; in eastern Uganda waited for a gerrymandering news to the hospital that they had superiors that if the fresh bodies could keep the swarm of blue flies The law, designed during the Brit- Sixty per cent of the bodies we have to pile them on top of each other rent realities. In the research paper
some are fond of hurling the bod- helping hand from a co-worker, set in and probed widely and even interro- also went unclaimed and started away. But the trio, as they usually ish colonial administration, also en- handle are unclaimed but luckily un- as we wait for help. not concerned, Dr Onzivua said. titled Report on the review of health
ies in bushes. who was due to report for work, land became gated some potential suspects but decomposing from the mortuary, earn their pay, dressed the body sured that each of the 16 districts at like many upcountry districts, we This help doesnt come that quickly Late last year, Lira District policies and laws relevant to the es-
Kawolo General Hospital in to put the body in the freezer. a hot cake. the woman was not known. the stench would be too much. in the sacks and loaded it onto the the time of independence had a pub- are in position to work within our leaving behind a stinking challenge. officials faced off with police over tablishment of the health professions
Lugazi, about 49km from the The body had been delivered to The insatiable The suspicion, however, was It was now evening, at about pick-up truck en route to the cem- lic cemetery. budget to give them a good send-off. Kawolo hospital keeps each un- dumping bodies at their mortuary authority in Uganda, the authors -
capital,Kampala is perhaps the the mortuary at about 10am that appetite hasnt that she could have been dropped 5pm when the hospital adminis- etery. And for long these cemeteries But in places elsewhere I know for a claimed body for a maximum of which go unclaimed and become Makerere University don Emmanuel
most disadvantaged - not just Monday morning late last month. spared the at the scene by one of the many trator reluctantly gave nod to one All this time the driver was served the purpose until gerryman- fact that this is very challenging, he three days after which they notify the a burden for them. At the time Kasimbazi and Dr Paul Kabwa, a
cemetery land. some five bodies had started
because it is on the busiest road, The attendant narrated, the long distance truck drivers who of the two ambulance drivers to also standing a few metres away, dering set in and land became a hot added. health inspector at the municipality, health consultant - recommend the
Kampala-Jinja highway - but also doctors had told him that the body ply Kampala-Jinja highway. But help the mortuary attendants to frowning and cursing repeatedly, cake. The insatiable appetite hasnt KCCA, for example, Dr Okello who then has to butt heads with the decomposing from the facility. same.