The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned against expedited mass burials for victims of natural disasters, saying bodies from such events rarely pose a health risk. In the latest statement co-authored by the International Red Cross (ICRC), WHO notes that there’s often unfounded fear and misunderstanding concerning the dead and as a result, communities move quickly to bury bodies such as in mass graves with fears that they pose a health threat.
This approach can be detrimental to the population, they warn. “…consequences of mismanagement of the dead include long-lasting mental distress for family members as well as social and legal problems. Well-managed burials include easily traceable and properly documented individual graves in demarcated burial sites. This should ensure that the exact location of each dead body, as well as the associated information and personal belongings, is known,” the statement reads in part.
Experts say unlike infectious diseases such as cholera or hemorrhagic fevers, bodies of people who die from wounds sustained in a natural disaster or armed conflict do not normally harbor organisms that cause disease. However, Pierre Guyomarch who heads ICRC’s forensics unit says there is a general belief that dead bodies will cause epidemics but this is not supported by evidence.
“We see too many cases where media reports and even some medical professionals get this issue wrong. Those who survive an event like a natural disaster are more likely to spread disease than dead bodies.” Apart from quick burials, the organization further says bodies do not need disinfection. They urge authorities that lime powder does not hasten decomposition and instead call for proper hand hygiene with soap and water, or cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub if there is no visible soiling.
Experts however warn that dead bodies near or in water supplies can lead to health concerns, as the bodies may leak feces and contaminate water sources, leading to a risk of diarrheal or other illness. They advise that bodies should not be left in contact with drinking water sources-URN (For comments on this story, get back to us on 0705579994 [whatsapp line], 0779411734 & 041 4674611 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).