Cases of abandoned bodies in public mortuaries in Harare are on the increase owing to rising burial costs and many unaccompanied patients whose families are unknown, public health officials say. A snap survey conducted by The Herald showed that a total of 18 bodies lay unclaimed for over half a year at the Harare Central Hospital mortuary with Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals having three awaiting forensic examination and Chitungwiza Hospital having no backlog.
According to hospital officials, some of the bodies have been in the mortuaries since October last year and now await paupers’ burial.
In a worrying development of neglect, Harare Central hospital director of operations Mr Peter Gwata said out of the 26 unclaimed bodies at the hospital, eight were for neonates (new-born infants).
“We are extremely worried about the growing numbers of unclaimed bodies.
“Our mortuary has the capacity to house 140 bodies and so far we have 26 bodies, 18 being adults and eight neonates awaiting collection,” he said.
Public health experts say that in such cases hospitals are forced to meet burial expenses, which eat into their operational budgets as some families abandon their dead relatives.
The sharp rise in the number, according to hospital officials, could be attributed to relatives not claiming the bodies, financial challenges in families and single parenting.
Mr Gwata said the department of social welfare had been conducting paupers’ burials to reduce the accumulation of unclaimed bodies over the years.
“The social welfare has been contracting parlours to do the burials but since last year no burials have been made, maybe due to economic challenges facing the country,” he said.
Funeral service providers say a paltry US$30 set aside by hospitals for paupers’ burial was not enough to cover cost of burial. Relatives of the deceased people are supposed to collect bodies within 21 days.
The situation at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals had improved significantly over the last few years. Hospital spokesperson Ms Jane Dadzie said bodies at the hospital were being collected with only three awaiting a forensic examination.