Mzuzu Central Hospital morgue stacked with unclaimed dead bodies

Malawi’s third biggest referral hospital, Mzuzu Central, is grappling with the burden of storing dead bodies in its mortuary following the over stay of eight bodies without claimants.

The dead bodies, some of which have stayed in the hospital’s coldroom for over a month, have created shortage of space in the mortuary creating panic at the health facility.

Some of the dead bodies were taken to the hospital’s mortuary by traffic police officers following road accidents in and outside the city and murder by mob justices while others died in the hospital wards.

The hospital’s Chief Administrator, Sipho Nyasulu, said while some of the dead bodies have been successfully identified with their names and home villages others, apart from their names, do not have full particulars.

Given its standing as a government facility and its facilities and large premises, more patients visit the hospital for treatment while many more are referred there from other surrounding districts for enhanced medical attention.

“It becomes so difficult for us to identify people who do not have full particulars, especially those who are involved in road accidents,” he said.

According to Nyasulu, the worrying factor about the unclaimed dead bodies is that once they overstayed in the mortuary they pose a health risk besides denying space for incoming dead bodies.

“The dead bodies which have overstayed in the mortuary are not only occupying the much needed space in the cold rooms, but are also a health hazard to mortuary attendants and other people who enter the mortuary,” said the hospital administrator.

According to GH Dean V. Kanagasabai, unclaimed bodies are the responsibility of the police. Until they permit their disposal, the bodies have to be stored. “Without a police inquest, we cannot initiate a post-mortem examination. The bodies are lodged in the mortuary and preserved until police decide on the course of action,” he said.

Though there are measures employed to prevent dead bodies from decay, Nyasulu observed that other factors could make the dead bodies produce bad smell and other risky conditions to human beings.
He lamented that every time, the hospital needs more space in the cold rooms of the mortuary for emergencies in the city, surrounding districts as well as those who die in the hospital wards.

According to Nyasulu, the police officers who carry dead bodies to the mortuary for postmortem and safe keeping take time to go back for action on the dead bodies.

But police said it was the hospital’s mandate to inform Mzuzu City Council about the unclaimed dead bodies who then inform the police to arrange for disposing of the unidentified bodies.

“The hospital was supposed to inform the [city] council, who in turn inform the police to organize prisoners for burial of the [unclaimed] bodies at Zolozolo Cemetery in the city,” Mzuzu Police Public Relations Officer, Maurice Chapola, said.

Chapola said once police are informed they issue a press release through media houses calling for relatives to visit the mortuary and identify their deceased relatives before police decide to bury them.

Both, the Directors of Administration and Health at Mzuzu City Council, Victor Masina and Lillian Chirwa respectively, confirmed that disposal of unclaimed and unidentified bodies is the responsibility of the police through the Malawi Prison Service who provide prisoners for the task.

Masina and Chirwa said the council was party to the process as it provides burial place at Zolozolo Cemetery.

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