Leaders protest hasty burial of Coronavirus victim in Siaya

Tuesday, April 14th, 2020 12:00 |
Governor Rasanga
Siaya Governor Cornel Rasanga.
Siaya Governor Cornel Rasanga.

Eric Juma

The hasty burial of former Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) employee James Oyugi Onyango, who died of coronavirus, has raised questions on how bodies of individuals who succumb to the disease should be handled.

Political and religious leaders joined members of the civil society in questioning why authorities in Siaya rushed to inter the remains of Onyango at around 2am on Saturday.

Siaya Senator James Orengo has engaged Nelson Havi and Company Advocates to seek legal redress on the matter.

“If James Oyugi Onyango’s death was caused by Covid-19, the conduct of the burial caused more harm than good and may have endangered other lives. Covid-19 pandemic is better fought without stigma.

The coronavirus has invaded the corridors of power and royalty. Even the heights of aristocracy and the celebrity world have not been spared by this invisible enemy and contagion,”said Orengo.

And as the anger continued to rise, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe waded into the debate and promised that his ministry and the County Government of Siaya have taken up the matter.

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“Let me be brutal with the truth. Though the national and county governments have taken up this issue, we must change some of our cultural practices.

Things will no longer be the same. Burials have to be conducted to ensure the safety of those left behind,” said Kagwe during yesterday’s press conference.

His Education counterpart Prof George Magoha urged communities to relook into some of their cultural practices.

“Let me also delve into the issue of the burial of Onyango. It is a big risk for communities and people who continue leaning towards certain cultural practices,”said Magoha.

Questions have been raised over whether the burial was in total compliance with the Public Health Act on disposal of bodies, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Ministry of Health set guidelines on the burial of victims of Covid-19.

Though Siaya Governor Cornel Rasanga formed a five-member committee to investigate circumstances surrounding the hurried burial and vowed to take action against all those responsible, elders and political leaders in Luo land called for the exhumation of the body to pave way for a “decent reburial”.

“I watched the clip on the burial of the late Onyango on a local television and felt pain as a human being. It was ungodly,” he said.

Rasanga, who is the co-chair of Siaya Emergency Response Team, said the burial exercise was conducted at the wrong and odd time and promised to act on recommendations made by the  team.

The governor, while addressing journalists at his Segere home yesterday, apologised to the bereaved family.

“We have already traced 45 people who interacted with Onyango as from April 5  and put them on forced quarantine. The response team is also zeroing in on 72  other people,” said Rasanga.

Breach guidelines

Rasanga  was accompanied by county Health Executive Dorothy Owino, Health chief officer Samuel Owino and Health director Ken Orwenjo.

According to Dr Willy Akhwale, a consultant on malaria and tropical diseases, Onyango’s burial breached both the WHO and Ministry of Health guidelines on the disposal of Covid-19 victims’ bodies.

“Before commencement of handling of the remains, the family must be fully informed about the dignified burial process and their religious and personal rights to show respect for the deceased. This was not adhered to,”says  Akhwale.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down. Nevertheless, we must apply the same standards for every situation. All victims deserve dignity, even in death...” said Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the government has ordered that the dead be buried within 48 hours. A maximum of 15 mourners are allowed to attend the burial.

On Sunday afternoon, several people including close relatives of the deceased and employees of Matibabu Medical Centre where Onyango died, were rounded up and taken into quarantine at the Kenya Medical Training College in Siaya town.

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