It is clear to us now that it is the IATF-EID (Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases) who has decided NOT to bring back to the Philippines the remains of OFWs who died of COVID-19 but opted to have them buried in Saudi Arabia instead.
The IATF should stop playing god. The task force should instead read the WHO manual on Infection Prevention and Control for the safe shipment of a cadaver in the context of COVID-19 with the following key considerations:
- COVID-19 is an acute respiratory illness caused by COVID-19 virus that predominantly affects the lungs;
- Based on current evidence, the COVID-19 virus is transmitted between people through droplets, fomites and close contact, with possible spread through faeces. It is not airborne. As this is a new virus whose source and disease progression are not yet entirely clear, more precautions may be used until further information becomes available.
- Except in cases of hemorrhagic fevers (such as Ebola, Marburg) and cholera, dead bodies are generally not infectious. Only the lungs of patients with pandemic influenza, if handled improperly during an autopsy, can be infectious. Otherwise, cadavers do not transmit disease. It is a common myth that persons who have died of a communicable disease should be cremated, but this is not true.
- Cremation is a matter of cultural choice and available resources
- To date there is no evidence of persons having become infected from exposure to the bodies of persons who died from COVID-19;
- People may die of COVID-19 in the health care facilities, home or in other locations;
- The safety and well-being of everyone who tends to bodies should be the first priority. Before attending to a body, people should ensure that the necessary hand hygiene and personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies are available
- The dignity of the dead, their cultural and religious traditions, and their families should be respected and protected throughout;
- Hasty disposal of a dead from COVID-19 should be avoided;
- Authorities should manage each situation on a case-by-case basis, balancing the rights of the family, the need to investigate the cause of death, and the risks of exposure to infection.
The IATF-EID must also review the Guidance Information on the Transport of COVID-19 Human Remains by Air Collaborative document by WHO, CDC, IATA and ICAO which most countries (including the Philippines) agree to accept embalmed bodies of their nationals.
Instead of playing god, IATF-EID must be more cautious and sensitive to the custom and tradition of the affected families. Moreso, the task force should always respect the dead and avoid rubbing salt into the wound of the grieving loved ones.
Drafted by Abu Bakr Espiritu for PATNUBAY HAGIT