Death is such a traumatic experience more especially if the deceased is a loved one—family member of close friends. It is can be quite hard for some people to deal with such traumatic experience hence some have had mental breakdown because either they failed to find closure during the mourning period and after.
People find closure in many ways. Some a mere body viewing is enough for them to find closure. For some, buying that expensive coffin and the best wreaths is enough to give them peace of mind that they have given their loved a dignified and deserved send-off.
Culturally, in Malawi the dead are handled with reverence. It doesn’t matter whether the dead person was one held in the highest esteem of his community or was the worst offender. It is for this reason that we talk of paying the last respects. This too, is how others find their closure.
However, the Covid-19 global pandemic has made it impossible for society to follow some of the established norms. Precaution and prevention of the spread of the diseases is of ultimate priority. It is for this reason that bodies of those that have died from suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19 are mostly being handled by medical personnel but that does not mean denying the dead their dignity and burying them like one would do with a dead stray dog.
Since the day Malawi registered the first death from Covid-19, what has been observed that the medical people, while following all precautionary measures, are denying the dead their dignity. The dead are being handled with little if any respect. There are times where the bereaved family has been barred from even conducting funeral rites such as prayers.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has clear guidelines on the management of the dead bodies suspected or confirmed of Covid-19. WHO emphasises that hasty disposal of the dead from Covid-19 should be avoided at all cost and that the dead, their cultural and religious traditions and their families should be respected and protected throughout the process but this is not being adhered to.
If one is to randomly talk to a few people who have lost their loved ones to Covid-19, they tell heartbreaking stories of how the health authorities disrespected and totally disregarded the emotional and psychological trauma of the bereaved.
Right to a decent burial, commensurate with the dignity of the individual should be recognised as a facet of the right to life guaranteed in the Constitution. There is, therefore, no reason as to why an individual who dies during this period of the crisis because of suspected or confirmed Covid-19 infection would be buried like unwanted dog.
WHO recommends that authorities should manage each situation on a case-by-case basis, balancing the rights of the family, the need to investigate the cause of death, and the risks of exposure to infection.
However, family and friends may view the body after it has been prepared for burial, in accordance with customs and ensure that they follow precautionary measures such as washing hands with soap thoroughly after viewing and observing social distance.
It is not like Malawians do not understand the need for proper management of the dead from Covid-19, many do and the little they are asking is allow them to at least pay their last respects in a dignified way so that they can find closure.
The way health authorities are currently managing deaths from Covid-19 risks plunging the country into more health problems arising from mental breakdowns and others.