Senate censures ministry over ‘undignified’ Siaya man burial

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020 00:00 |
Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union Nyanza chair Kevin Osuri (left) with medical officers at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching & Referral Hospital during an impromptu visit to check the facility’s preparedness to handle Covid-19 Photo/PD/VIOLA KOSOME

Hillary Mageka, Eric Juma and Tom Rachuonyo

Senators yesterday criticised the Health ministry over the controversial burial of a man who succumbed to Covid-19 in Kamalunga village, Siaya County. They accused the ministry of using the virus-related deaths to entrench stigma around the disease.

James Oyugi Onyango was hurriedly buried, without a coffin, by unidentified health officials in the wee hours of Sunday.

Senate complaints came even as it has emerged the team that conducted the burial is now under fire for breaching the ministry’s guidelines on interment of Covid-19 victims.

According to the ministry, before handling of the victim’s remains, the family of the deceased must be informed about the dignified burial process and their religious and personal rights to show respect for the deceased.

In total contravention of gazetted rules under the Public Health Act stipulating that burials must only take place during the day, Onyango was buried between 1am and 2am in the presence of a handful of people, including security officers and county health officials. The 59-year-old worked at the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA).

Cause stigma

The Senate yesterday demanded that guidelines developed by the government are adhered to the fight against the virus is to succeed.

“With all the proper protocols in place why would somebody be buried at 2am?” posed Nakuru senator Susan Kihika, referring as “distasteful” a viral video that captured Onyango’s burial in the dead of the night.  

“It is this kind of actions that will cause stigma around the disease. The whole thing was an affront to African cultural practices where the dead are respected,” she said.

Wajir Senator Ali Abdullahi said it is the mischievousness captured during  Onyango’s burial that provides a fertile ground for stigma to thrive.

“What we saw has the capacity of causing psychological and mental problems to the family and friends of the dead person. Stigma and mental illness can cause more damage than coronavirus,” he said

George Khaniri (Vihiga) also faulted the media for replaying the burial video “in total disregard” of the family.

“The Ministry must provide proper explanation on what happened so that this barbaric thing is not repeated,” he said.

Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula questioned the discrepancy between Onyango’s burial and those of other Covid-19 victims.

“It was abhorrent and disgusting,” he said.

The debate was sparked by House Leader of Minority James Orengo (Siaya), who sought a statement from the Health ministry demanding an explanation on the indignified burial.

Orengo, who is also the Siaya Senator, wants the Ad-hoc Committee on Covid-19 Pandemic to establish why the protocols developed by the ministry on the burial of victims of coronavirus were ignored and the family not consulted before the burial.

Orengo claimed Onyango’s family has not been informed of the cause of his death.

“The manner in which Mr Onyango was buried elicits serious concerns which this House must look into,” he  said.

Tested positive

Speaker Kenneth Lusaka directed the Ad-hoc Committee, chaired by Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja to investigate the matter and report on the same next week.

Meanwhile, a multi-agency team in Siaya has stepped up pursuit of Onyango’s son and two other people who escaped from authorities as they were being taken to a quarantine centre following his death.

The son and Onyango’s sister were among people in the compound when Onyango was buried but they sneaked out when the county team started rounding up his contacts for quarantine.

And last evening panic gripped people — Onyango’s contacts before his death —isolated at Siaya KMTC tested positive to the coronavirus yesterday. 

Siaya Police Commandant Francis Kooli urged anyone who had interacted with Onyango and had not been put into quarantine to reach out to authorities.

“This thing is serious but it’s unfortunate how lightly people are taking it. The government is not happy to close schools and markets and ban travelling. Such measures are taken for the good of all. Therefore, those who may have come into contact with the deceased should consider the good of all,” he said.

Onyango died at a local hospital in Siaya last Friday, four days after he arriving with his family from Mombasa.

He had started coughing soon after arrival on April 7 and was taken to a local private health facility on April 10, where he died a few hours later. Samples from his body tested positive for Covid-19 at Kemri centre in Kisumu.

Kooli said it will only take a court order to have Onyango’s body exhumed for proper burial. He said the homestead is sealed off, but will be cleared after fumigation before his family, currently in quarantine, returns home.

Governor Cornel Rasanga formed a five member Committee headed by Dismas Wakla to probe the Controversial burial of Oyugi.

The family now want social media speculation to stop and let authorities conclude testing the quarantined members.

“It hurts me to hear Kenyans on social media speculating the death of my beloved husband but I forgive them knowing well that today it has knocked my door and tomorrow such fate may befall them,” said Auma.

Elsewhere, Awendo MP Walter Owino and former Nairobi county legal officer Gad Awuonda urged the government not stigmatise Covid-19 patients to help in fight against the virus.

They cited Onyango’s burial as well as use of excessive force by police officers enforcing governments protocols to tame the spread of coronavirus.

“We need government to know that to fight coronavirus we don’t need stigma, patients and victims should be treated with dignity,” Owino told People Daily on phone.

He said the government should learn from the stigma around HIV/Aids, which he said has taken ages and billions of shillings to scale down.

Awuonda, on the other hand, said: “Humane treatment of (coronavirus) patients is key, since everybody is a potential candidate of being infected.” 

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