Malawi: Ministry Issues Covid-19 Burial Guidelines to Avoid Conflict With Communities

18 February 2021

The Ministry of Health has issued guidelines on burial of Covid-19 bodies to resolve conflicts that keep arising between communities and health officials during the death and burial of a Covid-19 body.

There have been conflicts md even running battles between health officials and communities over some deaths and burial of Covid-19 bodies.

In some cases, communities have accused health officials of not allowing them to view and wash dead bodies of their loved ones before burial.

In some instances, some communities have claimed that wrong dead bodies have been brought to them hence insisting on viewing before burial.

In Machinga an ambulance driver was assaulted and the ambulance damaged for lack of proper information.

To stop the conflicts and misunderstandings, the Ministry of Health has come up with guidance on the burial of a Covid-19 body which among others allows the community to bury their loved ones with their cultural and religious rites as long s those rites do not encourage the transmission of Covid-19.

The ministry also guides that cleaning of the body (kusambitsa) should not be done and that all orifices should be closed to avoid any leakage of fluids.

The ministry further says the body should be thoroughly wrapped in cloth or plastic paper to avoid any leakage of fluids.

Burial is encouraged to take place at the nearest burial site and each village is expected to have such.

"Burial should be done in line with cultural; values so long as strict infection measures are followed under supervision of health care workers," read the guidelines signed by Secretary for Health, Dr. Charles Mwansambo.

The ministry also advises burial teams to respect people's cultural and religious beliefs and allow them to perform such at the burial.

"The burial team must strive to respect the cultural practices and religious beliefs of the family, so long as they do not result in a risk of transmission," the ministry advises.

Great civic education is also needed where the family is expected to understand that certain practices that entail a risk of transmission should be abandoned, for example body washing, kissing or touching.

Other guiding rules include: burial taking place on the same day; expediting but not hurrying burial; avoiding overnight vigils; limit the vigil to few people to 50; mourners putting on face masks; physical distancing; placing of handwashing facilities at all points at the graveyard; washing with soap and wearing protective gear for undertakers.

The ministry also guides that the composition of burial team in rural setting should comprise 10 members who include Health Surveillance Assistant in the concerned area to supervise the wash protocols; police officer or community policing officer to ensure the social distancing and numbers of the gathering; the village head to control number of people conducting vigil; undertakers; community members and chief.

The committee is required to be oriented.

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