COVID19 - Fact Checks on Abba Kyari's Burial Procedures
Justina Asishana FASLN
The burial of the Chief of Staff to President Muhammad Buhari, Abba Kyari has brought to fore a lot of misinformation about who said what.
On Saturday, a lot of people took to Twitter over the burial of Abba Kyari. Majority were of the opinion that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) contravened its directives about the handling of the bodies of COVID-19 cases.
Most of them were of the opinion that NCDC had released the body of Abba Kyari who died from complications of COVID-19 to the families which contravened what the agency said about the bodies of COVID-19 victims.
Before the burial and in response to Garba Shehu's Tweet that the funeral arrangements for Abba Kyari would be announced soon, Chinedu Okore @IamCHINEDUOKORE wrote, "According to NCDC guidelines, bodies can't be released to families.
All COVID-19 funerals have been discreet and handled by NCDC with no family or friends present so that their lives aren't endangered. I do not know the funeral arrangements you will be announcing soon."
Onyedika Anambra @governmentson wrote, "Abba Kyari's burial is ongoing, no social distancing and this contravenes the policy of NCDC that corpse or everyone who died of COVID-19 virus belongs to the government and will be buried without family members present. The law is only for the poor."
Another Twitter, d Morris Monye Factor @morrismonye also wrote, "According to NCDC guidelines, bodies cannot be released to families. All COVID-19 funerals have been discreet and handled by NCDC with no family or friends present so that their lives aren't endangered".
A detailed investigation carried out revealed that there was no time NCDC said the bodies of coronavirus victims will not be handed over to families.
In its guidelines titled, 'Guidelines for Safe Management of a Dead Body in the Contest of COVID-19', NCDC stated that, "whether a COVID-19 patient died in a health facility or in a community, the body must be granted a safe and dignified burial."
If not NCDC, Who then said COVID-19 Corpses can not be released to families?
The Minister of information, Lai Mohammed had on the 3rd of April 2020 said that corpses of persons who testes positive to COVID-19 cannot be claimed for burial.
The Minister was quoted when he spoke at a News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Forum in Abuja where he gave an update on the activities of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19.
He said that the Corpses would be handled by the Ministry of Health because the bodies are contagious.
"Coronavirus is very dangerous and contagious; there is no medicine for it yet and it is not just capable of killing, overwhelming healthcare system, it will destroy the economy. In some countries, they are putting dead bodies in big refrigerators, because the morgues have filled up. Nigerians should not forget that these are not the type of corpses that can be claimed for burial because it must be handled by the ministry of health,” he said.
However, a detailed search revealed that his claim was not corroborated by either the Minister of Health or the Director-General of NCDC.
Did NCDC Contravene its Guidelines in the Handling of COVID-19 Corpses During Abba Kyari's Burial?
After the section titles 'Burial Rights and Procedures', the NCDC advised that, "Those tasked with placing the body in the grave, on the funeral pyre, etc., should wear gloves and wash hands with soap and water after removal of the gloves once the burial is complete" - in this context, it was observed that everyone who placed the body in the grave wore gloves and personal protective equipment. They were aptly equipped.
"Although burials should take place in a timely manner, in accordance with local practices, funeral ceremonies not involving the burial should be postponed, as much as possible, until the end of the pandemic", the burial was held in a timely manner and according to a statement by Garba Shehu, there would not be condolence visits after the burial.
While some of the guidelines of NCDC was followed, the guideline on mass gatherings and social distancing was flaunted as it was observed that the people who went for the burial did not maintain social distance while the gathering was more than the recommended 20/50 people gathering in a place.
Lastly, there was an outcry by the public on how the body of the Late Abba Kyari was handled and calls that everyone who attended the burial should be placed on isolation.
A further check on the "Infection Prevention and Control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19" by the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that dead bodies of COVID-19 victims are not contagious.
"COVID-19 is an acute respiratory illness caused by COVID-19 virus that predominantly affects the lungs; Based on current evidence, the COVID-19 virus is transmitted between people through droplets, fomites and close contact, with possible spread through faeces. It is not airborne. As this is a new virus whose source and disease progression are not yet entirely clear, more precautions may be used until further information becomes available.
"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. 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."
"In the event, a ceremony is held, the number of attendees should be limited. The ceremony should be held in a well-ventilated structure, attendees should be advised on social distancing throughout the event, ensuring the practice of hand and respiratory hygiene" - if the burial of Abba Kyari can be classified as a ceremony, it would be observed that although it was held outside, in Gudu cemetery, there was no observance of social distancing throughout the burial ceremony.
How Countries are Burying Deceased of COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way people bury their dead; despite assurances from WHO and other health organizations that the bodies of people who die from COVID-19 are contagious unless in rare cases, the deceased bodies of COVID-19 victims are still treated suspiciously.
Most of the countries affected by this virus have restricted gatherings for burials, in Nigeria, such gatherings are said not to be more than 20.
In India, where the government has reported over a hundred COVID-19 deaths, new guidelines for disposal of dead bodies were issued on March 15. Funerals are now limited to 20 or fewer attendees. Gone are the large, public funeral processions that are a key part of mourning for followers of many faiths across South Asia.
In Pakistan, the most populous province, Punjab, issued guidelines requiring those performing the ritual Islamic washing of bodies to wear appropriate protective gear.
In Turkey, farewells have been replaced by distance burials. Only those physically involved in the burial are allowed at the pre-burial body washing ritual normally attended by close family members, and only the closest relatives can attend the burial, with the Imam praying from a safe distance away, speaking through a mask. Authorities have forbidden mourners from approaching the coffin for a last look or word.
In both Brazil and France, authorities have persuaded people to restrict funerals to ten attendees. In Brazil, they also stipulate that mourners must remain about six feet apart which is a stark distinction from traditional funeral gatherings there, which always last all day and are attended by hundreds of people.
In Isreal, some Israeli hospitals place the body of a person who died of coronavirus in a glass booth. That way, families who weren't able to be with a dying relative can say the last goodbye. The glass booth enables families to stand on the other side of a wall and peer through a window to see the deceased.
The Burial officials have restricted funerals to 20 guests and forbid the custom of passing around a shovel for attendees to scoop dirt into the grave so participants don't touch the same shovel.
Coronavirus victims' bodies are wrapped in two plastic body bags to protect those who handle the body since coffins are not typically used in Jewish burials in Israel and bodies are lowered directly into the grave, wrapped in shrouds.
In the Philippines, a government edict has decreed that the remains of a COVID-19 victim should be cremated within 12 hours, with an exception if a religion forbids cremation. If the deceased is a Muslim, for example, the body of the deceased should be placed in a sealed bag and buried in the nearest Muslim cemetery according to Muslim rites, also within 12 hours.
In Jakarta, authorities across some regions are currently trying hard to assure the public that the burial of people with COVID-19 is not something to be wary of, as reports emerged that some locals have rejected the idea of having the bodies of deceased persons infected by the novel coronavirus buried in cemeteries near their homes. The authorities have given safety protocols to be followed before burying a COVID-19 corpse and these protocols include that hospital authority treating the patient spray disinfectant on the corpse, wash the body, cover it in plastic and put it inside a coffin for the burial.
In Sri Lanka, the Ministry of Health had earlier issued COVID-19 guidelines saying the standard procedure of disposing bodies should be cremation but had to reverse an earlier guideline that allowed traditional Muslim burial due to outcry by the people. It also said the body should not be washed and the body should be placed in a sealed bag and a coffin, as against the Islamic practice of washing the body.
Justina Asishana is a fellow of the African Science Literacy Network (ASLN)