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Bodies rot in hospital morgue

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“Forensic workers were refusing to conduct the post-mortem as they were not being provided with gloves and other protective clothing”

THE AIR-CONDITIONING and refrigeration system at the mortuary at Dr Harry Surtie Hospital in Upington is malfunctioning and corpses are decomposing, bloating and emitting “unbearable stenches”.

A complaint was lodged with the South African Human Rights Commission following the death of a Bangladeshi citizen who was murdered in Upington on February 6. Apparently the man’s body could not be released to his family as an autopsy could not be completed.

It is believed that this was the twelfth body that was being stored in the morgue at the time.

Upington resident Hadjee Momien Sulliman, who was assisting the victim’s family, said that she was at her wits’ end and had called the premier as well as the ANC provincial office, out of sheer desperation, asking them to intervene.

“Forensic workers were refusing to conduct the post-mortem as they were not being provided with gloves and other protective clothing. One doctor went out of his way to assist but was not able to conduct the autopsy without the assistance of forensic workers,” said Sulliman.

“The deceased was stabbed to death. As he followed the Muslim faith, he was supposed to be buried on the same day. However, the body could not be released to the family until the autopsy was completed.

“Many foreigners are treated like second-class citizens in this country and the family often approach me when they require assistance.”

Sulliman indicated that shortly after entering the mortuary she had had to leave as she was unable to withstand the foul stench of the rotting bodies.

“I had to run out and vomited. There is no extractor fan inside the mortuary. It is no joke, staff cannot be expected to work under these circumstances.”

Sulliman indicated that the family had then requested that the autopsy be performed in Kimberley.

“However, as it was a forensic matter the body would have to be transported by the police and the post-mortem would have to be done under their watch, which they were not prepared to do. A request was made that Kimberley forensic staff be brought to Upington to assist but they indicated that they were also not prepared to work without the necessary resources.”

She stated that the autopsy was eventually performed in Upington and the body was released to the family, after she had made impassioned pleas to the Northern Cape Department of Health.

“I requested the South African Human Rights Commission to investigate as this amounts to a violation of the dignity of the deceased.

“I sent a voice note to the premier to ask him to help to sort out this mess as well as to the ANC. I asked them how they would feel if one of their loved ones was subjected to this type of treatment.”

The spokesperson for the Northern Cape MEC for Health, Lebogang Majaha, confirmed that the cold room of the Upington mortuary was malfunctioning.

“This came as a result of the power being accidentally switched off at the facility. Following a list of complaints received from the forensic staff at the Upington mortuary, the Department of Health met with the staff and resolved some of their issues. The forensic staff resumed their duties and post-mortems were conducted,” said Majaha.

He indicated that the forensic cold room had the capacity to store 48 bodies.

“This is more than sufficient for the workload to cover the entire ZF Mgcawu region. In addition, there are separate, demarcated fridges to store the bodies of persons who have died of natural causes. Natural death bodies are usually collected immediately by families for purposes of burial, as opposed to forensic bodies which are kept for a longer period to undergo medico-legal investigation in the form of a post-mortem to determine the cause of death as per the national code of conduct for forensic pathology services.”

Majaha indicated that the department provided personal protective clothing to forensic medical services employees when required.

“Record is kept to that effect. Under no circumstances are post-mortems performed without the necessary protective clothing, including gloves.”

He stated that services were continuing as normal at the Upington mortuary.

“Staff are on standby for the collection of bodies and autopsies are conducted accordingly.”