Even the grave denied to Covid-19 deceased in Kashmir

Even the grave denied to Covid-19 deceased in Kashmir

Srinagar: Families who lost their loved ones to Covid-19 in Kashmir have had to suffer further agony as people have obstructed burials and treated the dead with indignity.
As of July 17, Kashmir has recorded 218 deaths related to Covid-19, which is 92 percent of the total number of deaths caused by the virus in Jammu and Kashmir region.
Srinagar has witnessed the highest number of Covid-19 related deaths as compared to other districts. The city’s Covid designated hospitals have seen scenes of grieving families waiting for hours outside for ambulance and medical staff. At times the bereaved families have faced ‘public ostracisation’.
The hassles related to Covid-19 deaths begin much before the body leaves for burial. Sajad Ahmad Khan, a resident of Qamarwari in Srinagar, said the problem started at the hospital itself.
“Ambulances not reaching on time, relatives refusing to claim the body of their loved ones, and the trauma of moving from one burial ground to the other, due to stigma people attach to Covid, are some of the issues that families have to grapple with,” he said.
Khan said that he along with his friends and acquaintances volunteered to assist the families and medical staff to conduct burial and cremation of Covid victims.
“We do it for free, not for any money. It’s for our conscience,” he said.
This week, a middle-aged man from Srinagar died at SKIMS after battling with Covid-19. Officials at SKIMS provided a body bag and an ambulance to ferry his body.
But, some people in the locality stopped the ambulance outside the graveyard and objected to the burial as they were afraid of being infected by the virus.
The brother of the deceased person told Kashmir Reader that the family had to plead before the angry people who were forcing the ambulance to turn away.
“It was agonising for u,” he said.
An acquaintance of the family who is a doctor had to intervene and convince people to allow the burial in the local graveyard. Late in the evening, the family approached a gravedigger who charged Rs 20,000 to dig the grave, citing excuse of the “protocol”. But he ran away soon, leaving the work half-done before the body arrived for burial.
With just one shovel between them, the family members had to use their bare hands to dig the remaining grave. All the while, they feared the mob that was still outside.
The Srinagar man was not the first Covid-19 patient to have been denied dignity in death because of misinformation and irrational fears among people. There have been several disturbing reports from hospitals and many localities of people obstructing burials.
A 30-year-old man from Anantnag desperately tried to reach out to administrators of a local graveyard in the last week as the body of her father, who was a Covid-19 patient, remained inside the hospital for 2 days before reaching the burial ground.
Since it was a Covid-19 case, no burial ground in the village and nearby areas was willing to take his body.
“It’s really unfortunate that people are showing disrespect to bodies and putting families to such pain, despite clear guidelines by WHO,” said Sajad, the volunteer.
He has so far buried 20 persons who died due to Covid-19 and faced abandonment by relatives and neighbours.
A family from Shalimar area of Srinagar told Kashmir Reader that their patient was abandoned by doctors and hospital staff after she tested positive for novel coronavirus.
“Our hospital stay was a traumatic experience for us after my mother was tested Covid-19 positive,” said Manzoor Ahmad. “Earlier, she was admitted in the emergency and received proper attention from doctors and nurse. But once she tested Covid positive, everyone turned away and asked us to shift the patient to the Covid ward where even critical patients are left to fend for themselves,” he said.
After remaining admitted in the isolation ward for three days, she breathed her last and what followed was heart-wrenching for the family.
“We had to wait for four to five hours before getting the ambulance and a polythene bag,” Ahmad said.
He said the hospital didn’t provide them PPE suits and exposed the attendants to the virus.
“We are apprehensive that we may be infected too, as no protective gear was provided to us in the hospital and when we left it with our dead mother,” Ahmad added.
As per WHO guidelines, except in cases of hemorrhagic fevers (such as Ebola, Marburg) and cholera, dead bodies are generally not infectious. “Only the lungs of patients with pandemic influenza, if handled improperly during an autopsy, can be infectious,” the WHO has said.
However, it said the virus was new and its source and disease progression is not yet entirely clear, so more precautions may be used until further information becomes available.
“Before attending to a body, people should ensure that the necessary hand hygiene and personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies are available,” it said.
“Otherwise, cadavers do not transmit disease. It is a common myth that persons who have died of a communicable disease should be cremated, but this is not true. Cremation is a matter of cultural choice and available resources,” read the guidelines.
WHO has also stressed on the dignified burial of Covid-19 patients.
“The dignity of the dead, their cultural and religious traditions and their families should be respected and protected throughout. Hasty disposal of those dead from Covid-19 should be avoided and 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,” the WHO has said.

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