Dignified burials for Covid-19 fatalities

Managing the virus

29 August 2020 | Ministries

Dr Kalumbi Shangula; Minister of health; “We need to and we must alter behaviour that propagate the transmission of the coronavirus…”

The minister of health Dr Kalumbi Shangula announced changes pertaining to the management of Covid-19 in Namibia.

“The pandemic has affected all aspects of life, including the way we grieve and the burial of loved ones, especially those who die as a result of Covid-19.”

To this effect the ministry has compiled a document, setting out the procedures and legal requirements related to burials of those whose deaths are attributed to Covid-19.

“The burial of those who succumb to Covid-19 must be seen in the context of legal requirements regarding the handling of the human remains of those who succumb to all other notifiable infectious diseases. In this regard, these requirements relate to the various stages of the process, namely, immediately after death, transportation of the body, the burial or funeral process,” said the minister.

Taking the legal provisions and the decision that all Covid-19 burials are handled by the State into account, Cabinet directed that certain requirements must be adhered to during the burial process of those who succumb to Covid-19.

“The conduct of the burials must be in strict conformity with the adopted safe burial guidelines, consider cultural and religious norms of the families, and allow the family to practice the required rituals. The covering of graves with mechanical ploughs is to be discontinued to ensure dignified burials for the deceased and the safe burials must not be conducted in haste, but within the time as agreed with the families.”

The minister said that the bodies should be buried closest to where the death occurred since the transportation of such bodies is not permissible.

“The ministry is fully committed to ensuring that our actions do not cause more anguish to those who are already grieving. Our officials will continue to do their best to conduct these processes in a manner that does not lead to feelings of hostility and animosity for families and loved ones of the deceased.”

Shangula emphasised that the reason for the enforcement of these measures is to protect the health and wellbeing of the nation.

“Improper handling of the human remains can lead to great tragedy. We do not wish that one funeral breeds more funerals. For this reason, everything that needs to be done must be done to prevent any infections. We therefore count on all Namibians for their understanding and cooperation.”

After death testing

The minister said that given the virulent nature of the Coronavirus, it is vital to be certain whether or not a deceased is infected with Covid-19.

“This is necessary because the infection status will determine how the body of the deceased will be handled, so that in the case of positive results, infection can be prevented. A clinical decision is made either to collect a sample or not from a deceased. This is done on advice from health professionals on the ground. It is however, discouraged that bodies be re-swabbed.”

In terms of autopsies the law and the recommendation from the World Health Organisation, autopsies are not encouraged, except in highly exceptional circumstances where it is required to determine the actual cause of death.

Cremation

The minister said that the bodies of those who succumb to Covid-19 may be cremated.

“This service is currently only available in Windhoek. Cremation is the choice and the responsibility of the family and not the State. The cremated body can be buried in the usual manner.”

Vaccine

Shangula said that Namibia has been engaging the international community regarding the development of a Covid-19 vaccine.

“Through the COVAX facility, we have participated in several meetings and interactions. More information will be provided in the coming weeks. As we pursue this matter, we are motivated to ensure that when a safe and effective vaccine becomes available, the Namibian people should be able to access it.”

Accountability report

Government allocated significant resources for the Covid-19 national preparedness and response, administered mainly by the ministry of health.

“The ministry has finalized a comprehensive Accountability Report which will be submitted to Cabinet. It covers the period from 1 April 2020 to 24 August 2020,” said the minister.

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