Church Buries Seven in Plastic Bags

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By Reagan Malumo KATIMA MULILO At a moving ceremony conducted by the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) Church, seven badly decomposed bodies were yesterday buried in plastic bags in the graveyard near Katima Mulilo. It appears a breakdown in communication between the SDA Church and the State Hospital at Katima Mulilo led to the seven being buried in plastic bags as each party was under the wrong impression that the other would buy the coffins needed for the burials. Some of the bodies were in the mortuary for periods ranging from a year to a year and half as no relatives came forth to claim the corpses for burial. This prompted the SDA Church to provide scores of volunteers who conducted yesterday’s pauper burials. Usually the Ministry of Health has a budget to procure cheaper cardboard coffins for the burial of paupers, using prisoners to bury the unclaimed bodies, but this was not the case yesterday when mourners were shocked to see the leg of one of the dead protruding from a plastic bag. They also had to endure the strong stench emanating from the bags. After spending so much time in the mortuary, all the bodies were badly decomposed. They appeared shapeless, and even hardened men and women of the cloth could not help shedding tears. Last week SDA Director for Caprivi and Kavango Regions, Pastor Ben Mutabelezi, said a letter of request was conveyed to his office from the Ministry of Health and Social Services asking the SDA Church to carry out the daunting task. Two of the seven deceased died in September and November 2005, while the remaining five died between the months of January and October 2006. The ages of all the deceased ranged from three to 50 years at the time of death. Cause of death in each case was unknown, and efforts to obtain information from the Ministry of Health and Social Services proved fruitless. It is not the first time that incidents of this nature have occurred at Katima Mulilo. Twenty people were buried a year ago after being stored in the hospital mortuary for a long time due to what officials claimed as lack of proper identification. It is also said that neither their nationalities nor their relatives were known, raising the possibility that some of them may have been of foreign extract. This has raised concern among some members of the public in the town as to whether concerted efforts are being made by the Ministry of Health and Social Services to keep proper records of patients’ identities before they are hospitalized, and contact addresses of relatives. Meanwhile, an authorization letter to bury the bodies dated March 5, which was addressed to the Principal Medical Officer at Katima Mulilo State Hospital, was made available. In the letter, Chief Magistrate Rachael Sakala of Katima Mulilo bemoaned the failure of the responsible officials at the hospital to keep adequate details regarding their patients. “This failure is contributing to the number of unidentified bodies, thus placing an extra burden on the State to have to bury the corpses,” she said. “I have so far received positive feedback from three of our five churches in Katima Mulilo and am still waiting for the other two remaining churches to submit their responses to my office,” he said before the burial, adding he had also made an appeal to all SDA congregations around Katima Mulilo to assist in the burial. Meanwhile the Ministry of Health has indicated that it will compensate each of the church members who participated in yesterday’s sombre burial service of the unidentified bodies.