Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Secret rural burials fuel Covid-19

By Sukulwenkosi Dube-Matutu

Some rural families are burying their relatives suspected to have succumbed to Covid-19 without notifying authorities, a development which health authorities say is fuelling the spread of Covid-19.

A preacher is disinfected by a health worker, during a burial of a person who died from COVID-19, in Harare, Friday, Jan, 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
A preacher is disinfected by a health worker, during a burial of a person who died from COVID-19, in Harare, Friday, Jan, 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

It has been noted that some families are burying their relatives without informing health officials, even in cases where the deceased showed Covid-19 symptoms.

People who succumb to Covid-19 are supposed to be buried under the supervision of health personnel.

In an interview, Gwanda District Medical Officer, Dr Blessed Gwarimbo said village health workers were facing resistance from some community members who were refusing to adhere to Covid-19 regulations.

“We have received reports of cases in the rural areas where some people die after showing Covid-19 related symptoms but families go ahead to bury them without alerting authorities. Some families even refuse to have their ill relatives tested for Covid-19,” he said.

He said because of such negative attitudes, the pandemic was spreading fast within families and communities at burials.

“We have Environmental Health Technicians and village health workers on the ground who can oversee all Covid-19 related burials but it seems people are by passing them. Sometimes when EHTs and village health workers hear of a death and try to engage families they are dismissed. When they go back, they find the person buried,” said Dr Gwarimbo.

He said as health workers they had no powers to enforce the regulations which require them to supervise burials of people who succumb to Covid-19.

Dr Gwarimbo said it was important for various stakeholders to come on board to ensure that communities adhere to Covid-19 regulations.

He said some burials and other violations of Covid-19 regulations were happening with the knowledge of community leaders.

He said the fight against Covid-19 was not the responsibility of the Ministry of Health and Child Care only but all stakeholders.

Matabeleland South Provincial Medical Director, Dr Rudo Chikodzore said it was standard procedure that every home death has to be reported to the police who go on to take the body for a post mortem if the cause of death is unknown.

She said in the case of the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic samples have to be collected to determine whether the person succumbed to the virus or not in order to ensure contact tracing.

“As long as people don’t follow this procedure and bury relatives without informing authorities then we won’t know the true extent of the pandemic in our communities. This also exposes those who attend the funeral as it won’t be supervised by Ministry of Health personnel,” she said.

Dr Chikodzore said Covid-19 procedures and regulations are meant to safeguard the community and therefore violating them exposes the people to the pandemic.

National police spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said it was illegal for people to conduct a burial without notifying relevant authorities. He said when a person dies police have to be notified and a burial order must be obtained from the Registry Department or relevant district offices.

Asst Comm Nyathi warned those who were violating regulations that they risk being arrested. He said it was imperative for people to follow the right procedures especially now during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The law is clear on what has to be done when one dies. Whether it is in the urban or rural areas when a person dies the police have to be notified. Before burial, people must obtain a burial order from relevant authorities.

“Those who are burying their relatives without following the right procedure must stop immediately as they risk being arrested. People might be mourning but they must abide by the law especially now during the Covid-19 pandemic. Alerting authorities helps with contact tracing and also containing the spread of the pandemic in the event the deceased have succumbed to Covid-19.”

Stakeng village head in Pelele area in Ward 24, Gwanda District Mr George Ncube said there were some traditions which some families followed when burying relatives which violated Covid-19 regulations.

He said after a loved one dies some just wrap the body with a blanket and bury the corpse on the same day.

Mr Ncube said with the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic some families did not want the bodies of their late relatives to undergo testing as it was against their culture.

“In some cases, villagers alert the police that there is a dead person and people wait the whole day for the body to be collected forcing them to bury the person before the arrival of the police,” he said. The Chronicle