Virus burial pre­ven­tion move shocks Mus­lims

Pol­icy re­ver­sal al­lows cre­ma­tion only

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - NEWS - By Shaadya Is­mail

Is­lamic groups say the govern­ment has been deaf to their pleas for burial of Mus­lim coron­avirus vic­tims fol­low­ing a new de­ci­sion to al­low cre­ma­tions only.

The Health Min­istry this week re­vised guide­lines on the dis­posal of bod­ies of those who suc­cumb to coron­avirus, say­ing the bod­ies should be cre­mated.

Two Mus­lims have been among the four dead from COVID- 19 in Sri Lanka, and both were cre­mated over protests from their fam­i­lies that Is­lamic burial rites had not been per­mit­ted. “The body should be cre­mated within 24 hours al­though prefer­ably 12 hours from the time of demise,” the fourth ver­sion of the Pro­vi­sional Clin­i­cal Prac­tice Guide­lines on COVID-19 Sus­pected and Con­firmed Cases states.

The re­vised ver­sion of the guide­lines was is­sued on March 31, three days af­ter the first death from coron­avirus was re­ported in Sri Lanka.

The pre­vi­ous guide­lines, is­sued on March 27, al­lowed for ei­ther cre­ma­tion or burial. Burial was to be al­lowed pro­vided that all steps to pre­vent con­tact with the body were en­sured and the grave had a depth of six feet to pre­vent the corpse from con­tam­i­nat­ing ground­wa­ter.

Con­sul­tant Ju­di­cial Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer Dr. Channa Perera, who was in­volved in pre­par­ing the guide­lines and is a mem­ber of the ed­i­to­rial com­mit­tee draft­ing the Pro­vi­sional Clin­i­cal Prac­tice Guide­lines on COVID-19, said con­cerns had been raised about buri­als cre­at­ing wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion.

“The coun­try is ex­pect­ing the mon­soon in a few days or weeks and the wa­ter lev­els are ex­pected to rise – in some ar­eas wa­ter lev­els have al­ready risen – and we can­not take the chance of the virus con­tam­i­nat­ing ground­wa­ter,” he said.

Dr. Perera said the pol­icy de­ci­sion had also been prompted by a report from The Nether­lands of the virus be­ing found in sewage wa­ter there. Given this, Sri Lanka could not take the chance of bury­ing bod­ies and find­ing its ground­wa­ter con­tam­i­nated with the virus, he said.

The is­sue was taken up at a meet­ing at Tem­ple Trees on Thurs­day, when the Direc­tor-Gen­eral of Health Ser­vices, Dr. Anil Jas­inghe, said that dur­ing a pan­demic the pri­mary fo­cus was to im­me­di­ately dis­pose of dead vic­tims, and the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion ( WHO) had is­sued in­struc­tions on the pro­ce­dure to be fol­lowed at such a time.

Dr. Jas­inghe said apart from the fact that buri­als were time-con­sum­ing and re­quired a con­sid­er­able amount of man­power, topo­graph­i­cal con­di­tions var­ied be­tween dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try, af­fect­ing the prac­ti­cal­ity of safe buri­als.

“The ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion of each area is dif­fer­ent from an­other as there have been re­cent re­ports that the ground­wa­ter lev­els of Sri Lanka are on the rise,” he said. “There is a pos­si­bil­ity that the soil can be con­tam­i­nated with the virus.”

Dr. Jas­inghe ex­plained that a burial could not take place for the coron­avirus death that had oc­curred in Ne­gombo be­cause ground­wa­ter lev­els were high there. Ar­range­ments had been made to trans­port the body to Mali­gawatta for burial but the au­thor­i­ties blocked this.

“We couldn’t al­low that be­cause of the dis­tance,” Dr. Jas­inghe said. “Our main aim is that in which­ever hos­pi­tal the pa­tient dies must take the body to the near­est cre­ma­to­rium for fi­nal rites to be per­formed.”

In response to crit­i­cism over the pol­icy de­ci­sion, Prime Min­is­ter Mahinda Ra­japaksa said the govern­ment was think­ing of so­ci­ety as a whole and what was most favourable to the com­mon good would be given pref­er­ence.

“We have de­cided to con­sult the med­i­cal spe­cial­ists on this is­sue as they are well equipped to han­dle this sit­u­a­tion,” he said.

Health Min­is­ter Pavithra Wan­niarachchi said it was im­por­tant for peo­ple to un­der­stand the grav­ity of the sit­u­a­tion and why per­form­ing re­li­gious rites on the dead dur­ing a pan­demic was in­ad­vis­able.

The All- Cey­lon Jamiyy­athul Ulama (ACJU) said the govern­ment had not heeded its re­quest on al­low­ing burial.

Speak­ing on be­half of the ACJU, Sheikh Fazil Fa­rook said the or­gan­i­sa­tion had pre­pared three burial grounds for Mus­lims ac­cord­ing to govern­ment guide­lines.

He claimed the de­ci­sion to shift to solely to cre­ma­tion came only when the ACJU had ap­proached the govern­ment.

The Vice Pres­i­dent of the Mus­lim Coun­cil of Sri Lanka, Hilmy Ahmed, com­plained about the changes forced on fu­neral ar­range­ments for the virus vic­tim from Ne­gombo.

“A grave was ini­tially dug up at Mali­gawatte but due to un­ex­pected show­ers the place could not be used, so im­me­di­ate ar­range­ments were made for the body to be buried at the burial ground in Jawatte,” he said.

“We fol­lowed all pre­vi­ous guide­lines is­sued by the govern­ment on the burial pro­ce­dure. We even gave as­sur­ances that, if nec­es­sary, we will con­crete the spot and that all pro­ce­dures will be car­ried out un­der the su­per­vi­sion of the po­lice, Min­istry of Health and Pub­lic Health In­spec­tors,” he said.

For­mer par­lia­men­tar­ian Mu­jibur Rah­man said for­mer min­is­ter Rauff Ha­keem had pro­posed ap­point­ing a com­mit­tee with pro­fes­sion­als to re­view the mat­ter but that this sug­ges­tion had not re­ceived a pos­i­tive response dur­ing talks at Tem­ple Trees.

“If 180-odd coun­tries can al­low burial why can’t our coun­try con­sider the mat­ter?” Mr. Rah­man de­manded. “The WHO has clearly in­di­cated that burial is al­lowed pro­vided that cer­tain con­di­tions are met, which we are ready to com­mit to. We are con­sid­er­ing tak­ing up mat­ters with the WHO if a so­lu­tion is not given,” he said.

Mean­while, a group of Mus­lim for­mer Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans im­plored Prime Min­is­ter Mahinda Ra­japaksa, to con­sider burial rights for the de­ceased COVID-19 af­fected per­sons of the Mus­lim faith in­stead of the au­tho­rized cre­ma­tion-only pol­icy, at the All Party Con­fer­ence held at Tem­ple Trees this week.

The team led by for­mer min­is­ter A.H.M. Fowzie in­cluded for­mer min­is­ters Rauff Ha­keem, Rishad Bathi­ud­din, Faiszer Mustapha, for­mer State Min­is­ters Seyed Ali Zahir Moulana, H M M Ha­rees and for­mer MP Mu­jibur Rah­man.

A statement from the Sri Lanka Mus­lim Congress said Mr. Ha­keen, quot­ing the WHO and UNESCO guide­lines, clar­i­fied about the ab­sence of any sci­en­tific claim that the COVID 19-in­fected bod­ies could trans­mit the virus to any liv­ing per­son. He said if guide­lines of these global au­thor­i­ties were strictly fol­lowed as in the case of deep buri­als and other health con­sid­er­a­tions ( in par­tic­u­lar cases), there would be no haz­ardous ef­fect in per­form­ing buri­als, in­stead of cre­ma­tions, as both meth­ods are al­lowed by global stan­dards.

De­nial of burial would also cause much men­tal dis­tress to the fam­i­lies of the dead, as they would wish to give their dead a re­spect­ful fi­nal rite as per their re­li­gious be­lief. It would also be read as be­ing ex­tremely in­sen­si­tive to­wards a com­mu­nity’s rights and sen­ti­ments, he said.

Prime Min­is­ter Ra­japaksa, the SLMC statement said, agreed to con­sider seek­ing sci­en­tific rec­om­men­da­tions from ex­perts in­clud­ing med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als and sci­en­tists to as­cer­tain the non-haz­ardous ef­fects of burial of the COVID 19 in­fected de­ceased per­sons.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Sri Lanka

© PressReader. All rights reserved.