Nepal | November 25, 2020

Protocol for disposal of COVID dead changed

Family members will now have to take responsibility of managing bodies of those who die of COVID-19 at home

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The Ministry of Health and Population has amended its Dead Body Management Protocol mandating family members to cremate or bury the bodies of those family members that die of COVID-19 at home.

Until now, government authorities, particularly the District COVID Crisis Management Committee, was shouldering the duty of managing the bodies of COVID patients. The new protocol states that families should inform local representatives and police before cremating members who die due to COVID-19.

The Dead Body Management Protocol states that family members and participants in the funeral procession should safely cremate the body taking all precautionary measures. They should wear mask, gloves and full-sleeve gown while wrapping the body and put the body in a body bag.

Family members also have to transport the body from the isolation room to a hearse. In case, a hearse is not available, family members should carry the bier/ coffin and care should be taken so that those carrying the body do not touch the body.

Public health experts Dr Mahesh Kumar Maskey and Dr Sujanbabu Marhatta said the risk of infection would increase if families were forced to manage bodies. Maskey said poor people might not have enough resources to safely cremate bodies of their loved ones who die of COVID-19.

“Initially, the government did not allow family members to be present at the cremation ground. That was an extreme step and now the government is telling family members to take the responsibility of managing bodies if their family members had died in home isolation. This is another extreme step,” Maskey said and added that the government had acted irresponsibly in amending the protocol. He said the government should help families cremate the bodies of COVID patients by providing safety tips and managing hearses for transporting the bodies to the cremation ground.

Marhatta said cremation of COVID-19 victims should be done with extra caution, which family members might not be able to take. “The government should review the amended protocol and deploy government authorities to cremate people who die of COVID-19.”

Dr Khem Bahadur Karki, adviser to the health minister told THT that the ministry had amended the Dead Body Management Protocol asking family members to cremate bodies keeping in mind the rising number of COVID-19 fatalities and unavailability of security personnel in remote areas.

“We have seen cases where army personnel have reached remote places in four to five days after a COVID-19 patient died at home. Waiting for four to five days is risky as body fluids ooze out increasing the risk of transmission.

Now, when the family can cremate the bodies of their dead members, they won’t have to wait for four to five days,” he said.

Karki said precautionary measures were taken by family members in all cremation processes and if a little more precaution was taken while cremating bodies that would be enough to prevent the risk of transmission.

The only risk of transmission in COVID-19 death occurs when anybody comes in contact with discharged body fluids and if people carrying the bier avoid touching such fluids, they can prevent the risk of transmission, he argued. He said the government had encouraged the people to bury the dead as burning dead bodies involved funeral processions that could increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

A version of this article appears in print on October 19, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.

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