By Dr. Ita Udosen
Precisely on April 24, 2020 I came out with an advisory to the Akwa Ibom State Taskforce on Covid-19 titled Covid-19 Pandemic: Containment Measures for Safer Akwa Ibom. In the said piece I listed certain measures that the Taskforce should adopt and implement to enable the government to gradually relax the lockdown order to rejuvenate the local economy. I thank the Taskforce and the state government for partially relaxing the lockdown although the mandatory order of wearing face masks in public is not fully complied with by the people.
A good number of people in public places either do not wear face masks at all or wear them improperly. This measure needs to be enforced, using civil enforcement committees with police backup to achieve the purpose it was ordered. In this piece, I want to draw the attention of the state Taskforce on Covid-19 to seriously consider the relaxing the lockdown order on burials in the state. A lot of individuals died from natural causes before and during this pandemic period. From available statistic, most of the mortuaries in the state are filled to capacities and some do not have spaces any more to take in more human bodies for preservation and storage.
It is important to note here that about 95% of the mortuaries in the state use dry embalmment method to preserve human remains. Health facilities in both public and private sectors do not have up to three refrigerated mortuaries as at today. The dry embalmment of human remains uses Formaldehyde (Formalin Solution) which is not produced anywhere within the state. Every mortician in the state depends on supply from outside the state. With the interstate borders completely closed, this solution is not easily available in the state for use by our local morticians. Thus human remains preservation and safe storage are facing a very serious challenge.
This challenge, coupled with mounting numbers of dead bodies from natural causes, the mortuaries across the state are fast overwhelmed and some of the bodies may start decomposing, setting a stage for an epidemic of some sort in this pandemic period. It is on the basis of this that I urge the Taskforce to i) Bury any Covid-19 human remains immediately according to the NCDC guidelines or protocol. ii) Relax the burial lockdown order on none Covid-19 corpses in a guided manner. Every weekend (Friday and Saturday) one local government per Senatorial District (i.e three local governments areas in the state per weekend) should be selected in turns and allowed to carry out burials under strict compliance with compulsory face mask use, social and physical distancing protocols. Such burials should be monitored by local government Covid-19 Enforcement Committees to be set up by the respective local government areas.
If this protocol is adopted and implemented, mortuaries in the state will be decongested and the possibility of a new Epidemic emanating from these mortuaries as result of decomposed human remains occasioned by lack of preservative solutions and other constraints will be nipped at the bud. It would be dangerous if we continue to stop burials in the state. God Bless Akwa Ibom State.
Dr. Ita Udosen is the Medical Director of Alma Clinic & Surgery, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State
And a Public Commentator on Health Matters