Loved ones in Wester Cape can’t be buried due to morgue backlogs

Cape Town – A spike in gang violence and gun crimes are the main reasons why there is a pile up of corpses at state mortuaries.

Staff shortages, delays with criminal investigations, and pathologists who have to testify in court are adding to the dire situation.

Speaking on the sidelines of her department’s annual report presentation to the Western Cape Legislature’s standing committee on community development, Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo said the pathology services are required at major regional hospitals.

“We have various levels of hospital services in the province. The Tygerberg and Groote Schuur hospitals are our biggest hospitals. We have 18 pathology services, but the main thing here is that two, Salt River and Tygerberg, have to undertake forensic pathology investigations and compile evidence. It is the pathologists from these two centres who have to appear in court,” she said.

According to the department’s figures there has been a 12% month-on-month increase in the period July to September. Compared to 2016 the body count for the same period was 306, that figure now, stands at 479 bodies.

Last week in an official note, the Western Cape Health Department warned of possible delays in finalising post-mortems as the Metro’s forensic pathology services (FPS) was experiencing a high case load.

“There is an increase of unnatural deaths and we have seen a spike in gang violence and gun crimes,”she said.

Mbombo said the evidence pathologists have to collect, working with police and appearing in court adds further strain on workers.

The backlog has in particular affected Muslim families who have lost loved ones.

The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), in a statement, raised concerns following reports from the community that bodies are not being swiftly released from Cape Town mortuaries in time for the customary 24-hour burial procedure in Islam.

“We are in contact with the relevant authorities to try and rectify the situation,” said the chairperson of the Muslim Cemetery Board, Shaykh Riad Fataar. “We have called for a meeting with the provincial Department of Health and with the aim of finding solutions to the situation as soon as possible. We urge family members who are waiting for the bodies of their beloved to please be patient with us during this challenging time.”

Mbombo said: “You cannot fast-forward these investigations as you have to appear in court. There are police cases that are ongoing and then there is the violence in the areas that continues.

“The forensic pathology officers are not medical people, they do the dissection, but the pathologists are the ones that have to collect the evidence.

“Whatever happens in health is a manifestation of what happens in society.”

She said there is a shortage “of everything not only EMS personnel”.

“There is simply no money, but we have done a lot. If we had more money we could employ as much as we want.

“We cannot blame our EMS personnel for being scared. That is the situation we are working with,” she said.

Mbombo also said at times there are delays with responding to incidents in high-crime areas as police have to escort ambulances to these areas.

“At times there are delays, but it is not major.

“In some cases community members take an injured person to a police station and that person is then treated there,” she said.

By: IOL News

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