Government 'ignored' call for transparent body bags to prevent mix-ups

The National Funeral Practitioners of SA made the call for transparent body bags after the first mix-up in April.
The National Funeral Practitioners of SA made the call for transparent body bags after the first mix-up in April.
Image: 123RF/Fernando Gregory Milan

A call for transparent body bags to prevent mix-ups during the Covid-19 pandemic was ignored by the government.

This is according to the National Funeral Practitioners of SA, which made the call a month after the country's first Covid-19 case was announced.

Nafupa secretary-general Julie Mbuthuma told TimesLIVE that the organisation called for transparent body bags when the first body mix-up occurred in the Eastern Cape in April.

Since then there have been at least four body mix-ups in that province. In one incident, a family desperate to view the face of a loved one ripped open the body bag.

In KwaZulu-Natal, two families are suing the provincial department of health after a body mix-up, which left them traumatised and heartbroken.

The Maharaj family from Thornville, near Pietermaritzburg, and the Mateke family from Lesotho are demanding a collective R25m from KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu after a “mix-up” led to the body of Keketso Josefa Mateke, 32, being cremated in a Hindu funeral service.

Two letters detailing the families' intention to claim for damages have been delivered to Grey's Hospital where mortuary staff had given Mateke's body instead of 84-year-old Chunderson Maharaj's body to the Maharaj family.

Mbuthuma said mix-ups occurred because several hospitals did not allow families to view the body.

“We wrote to the department of health because we knew there would be more cases as several hospitals such as Grey's, Murchison and Port Shepstone hospitals are refusing to allow families to view the bodies although there are viewing rooms where safety protocols can be followed. We have heard nothing from the department. It is regretful as undertakers get the blame when in fact, we cannot identify the bodies as we are not the family,” she said.

She said the latest body mix-up occurred in Eshowe in northern KwaZulu-Natal when a man identified the wrong body because he was too afraid to properly view the corpse.

“Covid-19 has really scared people and the stigma is there, even in death. The man viewed the body but didn’t really look because he was too afraid he would contract Covid-19. The body that arrived for the funeral service was not his wife's body,”  said Mbuthuma.

The health department did not respond to a request for comment on the call for transparent body bags.

In Kobe, Japan, the local government has ordered transparent body bags for families who want a viewing of those who died of Covid-19. It said the transparent bags, opposed to the opaque white bags that most hospitals use, might give some families better closure and help in the grieving process.  

TimesLIVE

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