Premium Times (Abuja)

Nigeria: Investigation - Lagos Hospital Where Corpses Are Left to Rot

In utter disregard for human dignity, decency and well-being of the public, morticians at the Ikorodu General Hospital wash bodies in the open with water fetched in battered old plastic buckets, a PREMIUM TIMES investigation has discovered.

When PREMIUM TIMES visited the mortuary, many of the bodies, carelessly kept in an unrefrigerated shipping container, were already decomposing - fluid from the bodies kept in the upper cabinets was dripping freely on the bodies below. One bereaved husband, who had to remove the body of his wife due to the shabby way it was handled, described seeing a body so badly decomposed that its head was almost severed from its body.

The Lagos State government says its vision for health in the state is to "attain excellence in health service delivery by applying best practices at all levels of care."

However the state of the mortuary in Ikorodu can only represent the worst kind of health service delivery obtainable.

The general filth and the smell of decaying bodies that pervades the area is a bazaar for swarm of flies. Visitors also fear the mortuary portends a serious health concern to the environment as well as workers, patients and other inhabitants of the area in and around the hospital. For instance, the hospital's canteen and catering services department is just few metres from the makeshift mortuary.

Not fit for dead dogs

"By the time we got there I could see them washing dead bodies in the public just by the side of the container. When the container was opened, what I saw was unbefitting for the body of a dead goat or dog," said Olu Famuyiwa, a septuagenarian who removed the body of his wife to another mortuary after it was treated shabbily.

"When the mortuary was open, I saw about six or seven bodies already swollen, smelling and water dropping from them. Because of the tip we gave the attendants they cleared the upper shelf for my wife's body. As we were about to leave, they asked me to buy a white linen cloth the following day to cover her body. I gave them N1000 to buy the cloth, as I wasn't ready to come all the way from Lagos just for that purpose. But to my surprise, embarrassment and humiliation, when I returned she was completely naked except for a piece of perforated cloth used to cover her private part. Don't forget that they collected money from me to buy white cloth," he continued.

He also complained that his wife wasn't properly embalmed as her complexion quickly turned unusually dark and had started swelling. He said if he didn't remove his wife's body when he did, it would have further decomposed.

"Her face was black already and the rest of her body was gradually turning black and swollen. I don't think the man that did the embalming knows his job or was properly trained.

"The skin of the bodies under her body was already peeling and water dropping from them was terrible. The last body - lying on the floor of the container - its head was almost severed from its body due to decomposition. I decided there and then to remove the body of my wife but because it was on a Saturday, we had to wait till Monday to remove her body," he added.

Standing just outside the canteen, one can clearly see unclad bodies sprawled on the mortuary's cabinet through its unclosed door. Water used in bathing the bodies is poured on the ground where it can easily flow into shallow wells, which are common in the area.

Ahmed Anuoluwapo, a mortician at a privately run mortuary, Omega Funeral Home, said proper disposal of water and other materials used in bathing the dead is an essential part of a mortician's job so as not to expose inhabitants of the area around a mortuary to diseases.

"It is important that the bath water is collected and drained properly so it doesn't find its way to public supply of water," Mr. Anuoluwapo said. "If the water used in mortuary gets into a stream, for instance, it could lead to serious health implications."

Not a mortuary

Bizarrely, while bodies were allowed to rot in the shipping container, a recently constructed mortuary sat about two metres away, unused.

When PREMIUM TIMES visited, some mortuary workers were sleeping on straw mats on its veranda with files of document scattered around them.

According to mortuary attendants, the building would not be used until it was commissioned by the Lagos Commissioner of Health, Olajide Idris.

Morticians have also been accused of extorting grieving families. Families were prevented from taking the bodies of their loved ones, even after paying the required charges for embalming. Morticians at the hospital demand not less than N3,000 before bodies are released.

"When we were about to take her body, three mortuary attendants refused to allow us demanding that we must give them N3000," Mr. Famuyiwa lamented. "I asked them what the money was for because we had paid for the embalmment and well as the daily charges for keeping her body and we also paid some tips.

"I said I was going to bring out the body myself and I started undressing but they stopped me saying it is not done. This is not a mortuary and I cannot allow her to stay here. Some of those with me eventually gave them N2, 000 before they released my wife's body for me."

Several attempts to get the Lagos State health officials to comment for this story was unsuccessful, with officials tossing this reporter around for several weeks.

He was asked by the hospital's administrative officer to go get authorisation from the state's health service commission before he would be spoken to. He did not get the authorisation he sought at the commission but was further asked to apply for an interview with the Commissioner.

Several days after a letter for interview was submitted, the commissioner was yet to respond.

As at late last week, a middle-aged woman at the commissioner's office, who identified herself as Mrs. Oyin, told this reporter his letter hadn't been treated yet.

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