Public hospitals and forensic warehouses are overburdened with unclaimed corpses. Health Minister Dr Joe Bahla recently drew attention to the issue when responds For written questions in Parliament.
Bahla was asked about the measures his ministry is taking to “Ensure that these facilities are not overburdened and crammed with unclaimed carcasses while ‘carcasses are now decomposing at a faster rate due to load shedding’.
General hospitals and forensic warehouses have continuous back-up generation capacity. Bahla replied that this helps mitigate the possibility of decomposition of the remains.
“There are ongoing discussions with Eskom to exempt general hospitals and forensic depots from dumping loads. Most of the decomposing bodies are received by forensic warehouses, he said, mostly because these bodies were discovered in public places after a long time.
To reduce the burden on health care facilities, Bahla said the Ministry of Health has implemented measures aimed at tracing the families of the dead and ensuring that these facilities are not overwhelmed.
Read more at The Daily Maverick: Unidentified bodies in mortuaries: how plans and promises of the Gauteng Health Department fall short
A joint initiative is underway to address the issue of unclaimed bodies, with a focus on tracing families.
Measures include contacting next of kin if addresses are available, using social workers, community development and healthcare workers to trace families, and publishing details and photos of unclaimed corpses through public media.
The South African Police Service is leading the effort. The Ministry of Health works with the Departments of Home Affairs and Social Development, and the municipalities, to provide burials for the poor in cases where families cannot be located.
Only after making thorough attempts does the Ministry of Health submit a request for the burial of the fakir.
One grave, three bodies
Lipu Machigo, whose family owns a funeral home in Mpumalanga, explained how the poor are sometimes buried.
She said, “Sometimes three bodies can be placed in one grave, simply because if you put them side by side, there will be plenty of space, one grave, three bodies, sometimes as many as four.”
“The municipality appoints an undertaker, they don’t do a proper funeral, they just get the cheapest coffin and put the bodies in it and bury them and keep records of the location of the grave where they are buried for future reference.”
said Susan Preece, Cape Town cemetery coordinator Daily Maverick That unclaimed bodies in the city’s morgue “has been a problem for a long time, and I feel like we are [the City of Cape Town] Harder hit than most places.”
Innovation in identification
Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi, with MEC Health and Wellness, Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko, recently a statement A digital fingerprint system to identify dead bodies at 11 county forensic service morgues.
The system was launched in cooperation with the Public Service Innovation Center and the Scientific and Industrial Research Council. He matches fingerprints against the Internal Affairs, SAPS, and National Credit Bureau databases to identify the bodies.
The successful pilot of the digital footprint system in five Gauteng depots (Bronkhorstspruit, Johannesburg, Deblov, Pretoria and Garankowa) in January paved the way for its implementation at district level.
Nkomo-Ralihoko said the introduction of the system was a major milestone in forensic pathology.
“This innovative technology will improve the quality of fingerprints collected from the deceased, which will lead to an improvement in the identification rate, which in turn will lead to the tracing of families of known unclaimed bodies,” She said.
Nkomo Ralehoko said 150 bodies had been identified in 11 morgues using fingerprints sent to police. DM