FUNERAL service providers and hospital mortuaries are struggling to clear bodies for burial owing to challenges in handling those that would have succumbed to Covid-19, coupled with a surge in deaths from other diseases.
Health officials revealed bodies are piling up in the mortuaries with relatives of deceased persons waiting for up to two days before their relatives’ bodies are released. The delay is mainly due to the guidelines set for dealing with infectious Covid-19 bodies.
Some funeral parlors have recorded a 100% increase in funeral services requests. This also comes as the country’s health system has crumbled to unprecedented levels, as people are dying unnecessarily due to non-availability of health care services.
Official statistics by the Health and Child Care ministry show that as of Wednesday 122 people have died of Covid-19 since March 2020.
A July Covid-19 internal audit report reveals that Parirenyatwa hospital recorded a 34% death rate of patients.
The report also noted a “delay in collection of deceased patients and returning bodies to bereaved relatives,” the audit reads.
Out of the 47 patients that were admitted at the Covid-19 unit of the hospital, 16 died. The hospital also handled bodies of people who died of other diseases at the institution or at home.
“We do not have major challenges with regards to handling of Covid-19 positive bodies. It’s only that there are protocols with strict precautionary measures, which have to be followed when handling such bodies,” Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals public relations officer, Linos Dhire said.
“Soon after the demise of a patient, the nurses liaise with the relatives to find out if the deceased has any funeral cover. If funeral cover is available, the parlour is immediately called to come and collect the body. The hospital has contracted a funeral parlour to collect bodies without funeral cover to Wilkins mortuary. Removal of the body from the ward is done by our own mortuary staff who require a minimum of 30 minutes to put on the appropriate PPE before they collect the body to a designated area where funeral parlours collect the body out of the hospital.”
Funeral service providers are also having a difficult time as their files have doubled per day.
“For us there has been a 100% increase. As you know written premium is less than 5% (of the population) leaving the majority not covered by funeral policies. For Doves it’s not a business, but a calling. Like l said there had been increased number of cash paying clients (people without policies caught unprepared in this pandemic) and in trying to lessen the burden we have come up with very affordable packages for everyone,” Doves Funeral Services general manager Nyasha Matsika said.
He, however, said the funeral service provider was experiencing sudden pressure on resources such as hearses.
“There is none testing of suspected Covid-19 bodies due to lack of testing kits. Ignorance on processes for both staff and the community (family members) on how to handle such cases. Resistance by family members in adhering to the SOPs (standard operating procedures) pertaining to the conduct of funeral services. And little or no cooperation from Ministry of Health officials in rendering the requisite services such as disinfection of premises, bodies and graves in cases of confirmed cases,” Matsika said.
He said they received two new ambulances from Faramatsi Motors to augment their fleet to provide a seamless service delivery to Zimbabwe in partnership with Zororo Phumulani in South Africa.
For Nyaradzo Funeral Services, the new guidelines and additional safety protocols on handling of the deceased have resulted in delays in response times, while at the same time there has also been a notable increase in requests for service, especially in Harare.
“We have engaged key stakeholders including the Ministry of Health, Home Affairs, Zimbabwe Republic Police, Zimbabwe Association of Funeral Assurers and most importantly customers to smoothen the response process and reduce the time lag between request for service by clients and provision of the same,” Nyaradzo operations manager Batsirai Simango said.
In rural areas, we are providing on site undertaking services for which our vehicles are fully equipped. This enables us to offer the same quality undertaking service without the risk associated with moving the deceased.”
He said there has been a significant increase in PPE expenses in order to augment the safety of their staff and customers.
“All our parlours, vehicles and equipment are being regularly disinfected and sanitised. We have also acquired Covid-19 test kits, which our Wellness Team is using to test and screen our staff for possible infection. Our in-house Group Counsellor is providing much needed psychological support to staff given the general fear and stigma associated with Covid-19,” Simango said. “Repatriation of human remains has also been impacted as follows: The global reduction in air travel has resulted in limited flights into the country which in turn has led to delays in receiving repatriated human remains. Some key offices which are involved in the processing of requisite paperwork have been opening and closing intermittently as they respond to their staff health situation, resulting in unpredictable service timelines.”