Giving the dead a dignified adieu

The District Medical Office has enlisted the help of various religious and charitable organisations to undertake the funeral procedures of those who died of Covid-19 

Published: 14th August 2020 05:36 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th August 2020 05:36 AM   |  A+A-

File picture of a cremation done in accordance with Covid protocol ,Express

Express News Service

KOCHI: The ongoing global pandemic has caused unimaginable suffering, resulting in the death of over 7.5 lakh people worldwide and close to 50,000 in India. But, the saddest part of it is perhaps how the pandemic has taken away the possibility of giving our dear departed ones a proper funeral. Reports of family members unable to attend the last rites of their deceased kin owing to quarantine and social distancing protocols have been heart rending. Although Kerala’s Covid-19 death rate at just over 125 is significantly lower compared to other states, the government has put in place a well-prepared machinery to accord a dignified burial or cremation for patients succumbing to the virus. 

Closer home in Ernakulam, where the Covid death toll stands at 19, the District Medical Office has enlisted the help of various religious and charitable organisations to undertake the funeral procedures. While no paid workers have been hired for the same, the 17 health supervisors, 67 inspectors and 280 junior inspectors in the district are aided by close to 15,000 volunteers from Christian, Hindu and Muslim groups who have been trained at local PHCs. “Apart from one staff member of the DMO, we deploy around four volunteers at every burial or cremation. Relatives are also allowed to be present if they are not in quarantine. However, they are not allowed to see the body,” said P N Sreenivasan, district nodal officer, Covid-19 body management. 

Sahrudaya Samaritans, the charitable wing of the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, has enrolled over 2,500 volunteers across four districts of central Kerala. Of them, nearly 1,000 are from Ernakulam alone. “We started the initiative early July after hearing reports that people were scared to give a respectable burial due to fear of contracting the virus. Our volunteers have helped in around 10 burials in Ernakulam so far,” says Fr Joseph Koluthuvallil, director of the charity.

At the mortuary
Upon the death of a Covid-19 patient, the body undergoes an extensive disinfection and sealing process. “At the mortuary, the body is first sprayed with a diluted bleaching powder solution. All the holes of the corpse including nostrils, ears and mouth are plugged. It is then wrapped in two layers of white cloth and a plastic roll. After that, another layer of white cloth is wrapped around the body before being put into three body bags,” added Sreenivasan.

Kerala currently follows burial protocols mandated by the Union Ministry of Health which differ significantly from WHO norms. “According to WHO, transmission from a deceased person only happens through direct contact with bodily fluids so only those things need to be avoided. But as neither of the guidelines talk about how long the virus can be alive in the body. There is no exact data on whether it’s three or six hours. WHO’s guidelines do not require a special vehicle, the persons involved can just wear masks and gloves. On the other hand, national protocol stresses on disinfecting the body bag, the vehicle and a full PPE suits for people conducting the procedure,” says Dr Anup Warrier, consultant, Department of Infectious Diseases at Aster Medcity.

In a nutshell
17 health supervisors, 67 health inspectors and 280 junior health inspectors in the district 
Close to 15,000 volunteers from Christian, Hindu and Muslim groups have enrolled
Volunteers trained at local PHCs

No requirement for a special vehicle to transport the body under WHO norms 
Disinfection of the body not needed. Cleaning would suffice
 Persons involved in burial can just wear mask and gloves 
Centre insist on special vehicle for transportation and its disinfection 
Thorough disinfection of the corpse including the body bag 
Full PPE suits to be worn by people present 

Nipah vs Covid
Unlike the protocol during the Nipah outbreak, the state government has allowed family members to attend the funeral rights of Covid victims. “There is a lot of difference in the mode of transmission between Nipah and Covid-19. Nipah is akin to Ebola where the infection is present in body fluids and transmits through physical contact. Hence the virus is very much present in a corpse. Covid, on the other hand, is droplet borne,” says Dr Anup Warrier, consultant, Department of Infectious Diseases at Aster Medcity.

India Matters


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