Feature – The inhumane state of how bodies are treated in Morgues

Mortuaries in public health facilities have come under fire over the past few weeks following the death of Ghanaian Music sensation Priscilla Opoku Kwarteng, best known as Ebony Reigns.

Ebony died in a car crash on the Sunyani-Kumasi road along with two others after a vehicle they were travelling on collided with a VIP bus.

Her body together with two others who died with her in a car accident were laid on the bare floor open to the public and uncovered from the cameras.

Before noon on that fateful day, the pictures were all over social media raising teething questions about the management of morgues and how inhumanely and insensitively bodies of dead relations are treated.

But the truth of the matter is that the situation that has caused considerable backlash is the norm and not the exception.

Ultimate News has been visiting morgues of public hospitals and the pictures have been gory.

The situation is not so different at the Sunyani Municipal Hospital exactly in Brong Ahafo, the home region of Ebony.

You are met right from the entrance by an unpleasant stench. Bodies lay on stretchers ready to be prepared for freezing.

The area is full of houseflies raising fears of the infections being carried from these dead bodies into the nearby communities.

The floor is splashed with dirty water dripping from the washed bodies.

A staff of the morgue told Ultimate News’ Ivan Heathcote – Fumador that they are sometimes compelled to leave bodies lying outside the fridges for a long time because the fridges are small and just a few. He says the situation gets worse when they have to keep bodies untouched till the police conducts investigations with some bodies getting bloated.

He indicated, “Our problem is space. Many people die and we don’t have enough capacity to pack the bodies. If you don’t embalm bodies and you leave them on the floor, it brings problems and the body can get bloated if there is water content in the body.”

This bizarre scene unfortunately plays out in several other public morgues especially in under developed regions with the Bolga Government Hospital Morgue reported to be one of the worst morgues in the country.

It however appears some private morgues are on a mission to get things right. Dr Gabriel Antwi Coffie is on a course to cause a revolution in the way morgues are managed in Ghana.

He has begun with two of such modern morgues. The Living Waters Morgue at Ejisu and the Best Care Morgue located at Mentukwa in Sunyani just a distance away from this gory site.

Unlike what we witnessed at the municipal hospital; this morgue has nothing ominous about it.

You are rather met by a receptionist whose duty is to console relatives and register each body that comes to the morgue.

The morgue has standard procedures of how bodies are received into the Morgue and how they are transferred into the autopsy room for treatment, freezing and final release to families.

Walking us through the protocols, Dr Sekyere points to the reception door with an ambulance parked close to it.

“On a typical day, the ambulance will bring a body in. The body comes through one and relatives of the deceased, also come in through another end. The stretcher that you see over here, are used by the morticians to pick the body from the ambulance and the body is moved straight into the autopsy room where the body is placed on the autopsy table for all the treatement to begin. From there, the body is moved to the cold room. On the day of discharge, they bring those bodies outside the cold room. These bodies are bathed, and transferred into a display room and they are put into neat body bags and properly packaged before they are moved out. So you see that at any point in time these bodies never get unto the floor and this is actually meant to ensure that there is so much infection control within the system.”

The autopsy room where bodies are washed, prepared and embalmed almost resembled an exotic laboratory. Ironically the room was so clean staff admitted they were comfortable having lunch right there.

A Mortician told Ultimate News’ Ivan Heathcote – Fumador, the team does not compromise on hygiene.

‘We are the morticians here. When the bodies come in, we receive them into the autopsy room on stretchers. We have autopsy tables where we place each body to be worked on. When you enter other autopsy rooms, you see cracks and warping on the walls because of the liquids used for washing the bodies. But here at best care, we realized that this produces some bad odour so we decided to tile the whole room. Even the autopsy table is laiden with tiles to prevent all of that. This is to make the place attractive even for outsiders who bring their bodies here.

Instead of fridges, this morgue uses cold rooms segmented into first class, VIP and Children sections.

Dr Sekyere Coffie told Ultimate News, the manner in which the body of Ebony has been treated needs to spark a new debate about how societal culture and the sensibilities of relatives are hurt by the inactions of some public morgues in Ghana.

Dr Coffie fumed, “in fact, it is very unfortunate Ebony’s body was treated in that way. If I was any family member of Ebony I will be so much disheartened and I might not take it likely. In Actual Fact, when bodies get into mortuaries, no pictures are supposed to be taken. Under normal circumstance, if it gets into the autopsy room or any part of the morgue, no media coverage is suppose to go on. Unfortunately people are not maintaining those by laws and that ethical consideration when it comes to taking care of dead bodies.”

“Our culture also frowns on the way we are treating some dead bodies. I have seen some mortuaries where dead bodies are treated as if they were nothing meanwhile in our culture we treat the dead with some level of dignity just like the living.”

He added, When you are sick, there are times that people will not even come to you but its only when you are dead that you see people with some big cloth coming in as ‘abusua panin’ and that is where they want to show you their last respects. It gives you a fair idea about how people respect the dead and as a result, I\ am expecting that a lot of mortuaries would consider our cultural considerations and give respect to the dead.”

Ebony’s death must might have raised these concerns because of stardom and the clouts that come with her stature as a public figure. But seldom do these very conditions that hinge on a critical part of society receive any attention.

Whether this debate will make a difference or not will depend not only on the death of stars but a clear will on the part of the management of public hospitals and the nation’s health management structures and by far government institutions, to make a difference.

By: Ghana/Ultimatefmonline.com/106.9FM/Ivan Heathcote – Fumador