Uproar as mortuaries demand pay for storage of Covid victims

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Whereas such services are supposed to be offered free of charge, some mortuary staff demand between Shs100,000 and Shs800,000 from relatives, claiming the money is for refrigeration of the bodies and treatment.  

Attendants at some mortuaries of public hospitals across the country are demanding money from families before they release bodies, Daily Monitor has established.
Whereas such services are supposed to be offered free of charge, some mortuary staff demand between Shs100,000 and Shs800,000 from relatives, claiming the money is for refrigeration of the bodies and treatment.  

Several people, who spoke to this newspaper, said the situation has become worse in the Covid-19 pandemic as the morgue attendants demand for more money for people who succumb to the virus.
Morgue attendants are supposed to treat the bodies for free and while releasing them to the relatives, sensitise the latter to minimise any chance of infection during transportation and burial.

At Gulu Regional Referral Hospital, several people alleged that the mortuary attendants charge between Shs500,000 and Shs800,000 to release dead bodies to relatives, especially of those who died of Covid-19.
On June 14, the wife of Samuel Okello, a former senior police officer, who succumbed to Covid-19, stormed Gulu Resident City Council offices, saying morgue attendants at the referral hospital morgue had demanded for Shs600,000 to release the body of her husband.

What hospital says
Speaking to Daily Monitor in an interview, Mr James Otim Onegiu, the hospital senior principal administrator, confirmed the reports. 
“We are told they claim to use the money for purchasing formalin and other materials to treat the body as well as fees for keeping the body safe,” Mr Onegiu said at the weekend.

He said the hospital management is zeroing on the morgue attendants involved in the actions.
“Charging fees at the morgue for releasing a dead body is an illegal act, something the hospital is against, and the community should always report such cases for action to be taken,” he added.

Ms Denis Odongpiny, the Gulu resident city commissioner, said he was yet to address the concerns with the hospital.
“This is not the first time I am receiving calls about the actions of the mortuary attendants at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital who demand money not only from relatives of Covid-19 victims but also from people whose relatives have died from other illnesses,” he said. While calling for the dismissal of the accused staff, Mr Odongpiny said it was inhuman to charge fees for release of dead bodies, especially now that Covid-19 has crippled communities financially.

“Many families are struggling to just afford a single meal in a day and you wonder what happens to some people who try to exploit such situations by charging fees on dead bodies at a government facility,” he said.
The mortuary at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital accommodates eight bodies but the unclaimed ones are normally kept at the facility for over a month.
“The hospital does not run a policy to charge any fees for the bodies, it is illegal,” Mr Odongpiny said, adding that “all they will need are death certificates, which are issued free of charge.”

At Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital mortuary, this newspaper established that the attendants levy different charges for dead bodies.
For one who succumbs to Covid-19, one is charged between Shs300,000 and Shs600,000.
According to sources who preferred anonymity, the mortuary attendants also charge depending on the status of the deceased’s relatives, with some people charged less than Shs100,000.
But Dr Celestine Barigye, the hospital director, yesterday said they do not levy any fees for storage of dead bodies. He said those attendants involved in the act are doing it illegally and face arrest.
However, at other public hospitals, while the authorities said the dead bodies are released for free, many said the storage facilities are in a bad state. 

At Kabale Regional Referral Hospital, Dr Sophie Namasopo, the director, said relatives are not charged any fees when picking the bodies from the mortuary. “We did not pay any money at Kabale hospital mortuary before we picked the body of our late brother that succumbed to coronavirus. I can testify that picking a body from Kabale hospital mortuary is free,” Mr Benon Kabagambe, a relative of a victim, said.
In eastern Uganda, health facilities are struggling to keep the dead bodies as the Covid-19 death toll rises.

Poor storage services
At Masafu hospital, the biggest health facility in Busia District, authorities have resorted to keeping coronavirus dead bodies in an incinerator to avoid congestion. This comes as the death toll due to the disease keeps rising in the area.

Dr Ibrahim Dula, the in-charge of the hospital, said it was true the mortuary attendant had resorted to keeping the dead bodies in the incinerator.
“We have a very small room for handling dead bodies at the hospital; due to fear of mixing the other dead bodies with those of Covid-19, our mortuary attendant is keeping them in the incinerator,” Dr Dula said.

 Busia District has no mortuary. Before the outbreak of Covid-19, Busia residents would take the bodies of their loved ones in the well-equipped mortuaries across Kenya at a fee of Kshs1,000 (about Shs35,000) per day.
Dr Dula, however, said they were not charging any money for keeping dead bodies.  “We don’t charge any money once one passes on, we keep the body shortly as the health team prepares to take it for burial,” Dr Dula said.
In Soroti City, unclaimed bodies of people who die outside the hospital premises are kept at the city morgue, which has no refrigerator.
After a couple of days, if there are no claimants, the bodies are buried at the city cemetery.

The outgoing town clerk, Mr Moses Otimong, said when people turn up to claim the bodies, the morgue attendants demand between Shs100,000 and Shs160,000 for preserving and dressing the bodies. But at Soroti Regional Referral Hospital, the mortuary attendant, Mr Basil Enatu, said their services are free of charge. However, he said what people pay for is services such as dressing the body.
 In West Nile, the hospitals said they are not charging for the release of dead bodies, except for conducting postmortem and treating the bodies.
Speaking to Daily Monitor last week, Dr Francis Oneka, the medical director of St Joseph’s Hospital Maracha, said the hospital does not charge any special fees for the release of bodies from the mortuary.

“There is no fee attached to release of bodies from the mortuary. We only charge some money if the relatives of the deceased request for a postmortem and body treatment with formalin. And even then for us, we haven’t registered a case of Covid-19 death in the facility,” he said.
At Arua hospital, the management said no charges are demanded for keeping the bodies.  In Moyo, the senior hospital administrator, Mr Benard Bessi, said: “We do not levy any charge or money on dead bodies leaving our mortuary. When someone has died, the body is taken away immediately by relatives. We only ensure that the body (Covid-19 case) is buried by a trained health team.”

 By Tobbias Jolly Owiny, Ivan Tolit, Felix Okello Warom, Robert Atiku, Scovin Iceta, Marko Taibot, David Awori, Robert Muhereza, Felix Ainebyoona, & Simon Peter Emwamu.