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Attendants cash in on the dead

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By Feston Malekezo, Josephine Chinele & Mandy Pondani:

Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (Qech) in Blantyre is operating with a malfunctioning mortuary while, in other hospitals, bereaved families are paying for services that are supposed to be offered free-of-charge.

During a visit to the mortuary on Wednesday afternoon, houseflies were seen all over the place and a strong stench from the cold rooms was nauseating.

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Bereaved families were seen covering their noses with clothes as they entered the mortuary.

“The stench was unbearable. I used this [showing his jacket] to protect myself from the stench. I think the [equipment in the] cold rooms has stopped working or something has happened,” a bereaved man, who sought anonymity, said.

However, Qech Hospital Administrator, Themba Mhango, dismissed such reports.

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“We have a contractor on standby to make sure that the facility is working properly. We would have known that already. So I am getting this from you,” he said.

The Daily Times also established that bereaved families seeking mortuary services pay in excess of K35,000 per body for embalming.

Mortuary attendants and bereaved families are involved in such deals.

Mortuary attendants reportedly source chemicals for embalming from unknown sources, amid fears that they might be sourcing the same from the hospital’s laboratory.

Mhango said he could not comment on operations of mortuary attendants but would find out more on the matter.

“What I can say is that people are not supposed to pay for mortuary services at Qech. We are supposed to charge something for people who just want to keep dead bodies but that has never been enforced. We don’t provide embalming services because we know that people use other mortuaries. We need the embalming chemical for other purposes in the laboratory,” he said.

The Daily Times has also established that people of Karonga and Rumphi districts pay for medical and non-medical services which are supposed to be offered free-of-charge.

Some of the services being charged for are mortuary services, ambulance usage for referral cases and, in some cases, the Out-Patient Department.

In an interview, Mwayi Silungwe said he paid K10,000 at Karonga District Hospital two weeks ago so that mortuary attendants could store and take care of his nephew’s body.

Silungwe said one of the hospital workers gave him a phone number to make a call if he wanted the body to be kept at the mortuary.

“The man, on the other end, told me that they charge K15,000 for adults and K10,000 for children for them to apply a special chemical on the dead body so as to avoid decomposition. I thought this is unfair since such services are supposed to be offered free-of-charge,” he said.

“It makes no sense, really, for us to access free medical care when alive, only to be slapped with such an exorbitant fee after death. Authorities should look into it,” he said.

Karonga District Health Officer, Phineous Mfune, expressed ignorance on the development, saying their services are offered free-of-charge.

“We have a service charter which people should be very familiar with. Such reports come to us as hearsay but no one has come to complain. I want to put it on record that mortuary services at Karonga District Hospital are offered free-of-charge. No one is supposed to pay [for them],” Mfune said.

Similar reports have emerged from Rumphi District Hospital but Rumphi District Hospital spokesperson, Bwanalori Mwamlima, said plans to impose fees on mortuary services are “merely” in the pipeline.

“It [the measure] was proposed as part of income-generating activities in line with government reforms. Otherwise, I don’t think there is anyone who can claim to have paid for mortuary services here.

“There are special services that people may want, such as embalming, which require special chemicals; so, for sure, clients have to pay a little something,” Mwamlima said.

Ministry of Health and Population Services spokesperson, Joshua Malango, asked for more time before commenting on the matter.

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