Families members can now bury their loved ones that succumb to COVID-19. The government had initially taken up the burial arrangements, to guarantee safe and dignified burials, commonly used when dealing with highly infectious diseases.

The guidelines earlier issued by the Health Ministry stated that the burial of persons who succumb to the coronavirus disease was supposed to be carried out by trained health workers and the number of people who access the graveyard had to be limited.

In addition to this, the body also had to be prepared by health workers who would then hand it over to burial teams who would transport the body for burial.

Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) has been carrying out the safe and dignified burials of all COVID-19 suspected and confirmed deaths. However, the new guidelines issued by the ministry of Health indicate that henceforth, teams will just disinfect the body of the deceased and wrap it in a burial bag before handing it to family members for burial.

Irene Nakasiita, the public relations manager URCS says that the new protocols are needed because they can no longer meet the costs associated with carrying out safe and dignified burials.

“We were doing this on behalf of government but government did not have money to put it in. We did it for like 4 months and it was too expensive. When we asked government to chip in and fund, they did not have a budget. So ministry of Health communicated that apparently they will be securing bodies and handing them over to families to bury,” said Nakasiita.

Eric Edwards Ofwono, the Infectious Disease Operations manager at URCS says now the burials will be overseen by district health teams. According to URCS, around 50 burials have been conducted by their teams around the country. Ofwono adds with more predicted deaths, it will not be unsustainable for their teams to continue burying the COVID-19 victims. As of November 9, 2020, Uganda’s COVID-19 deaths stand at 133 with a cumulative total number of infections at 14,574.

George Okentho, the commissioner in charge of safe and dignified burials says that the new protocols were issued after it was discovered that the remains of persons who succumb to the disease are not infectious.

“There is nothing like a safe and dignified burial in Uganda. The burials have been stopped after it was discovered that the disease is not contagious. The remains of the dead cannot spread the disease,” he said.

The burials have been an issue of contention with some thinking the burials are not necessary since there is no evidence to indicate that the disease can be spread from remains of the deceased.

According to the World Health Organisation, while there is little evidence to show that the disease can be passed on through the remains of an infected person, it is important to take precautions since little is known about the disease.

However Ugandan public health expert, Prof Freddie Ssengooba, in an earlier interview with URN cautioned the ministry about safe and dignified burials saying they were not needed for COVID-19. He said the burials raise suspicion of government officials using the pandemic for monetary gains.