Bodies are piling up in Ghana’s morgues as families resist smaller Covid-era burials
“We are running out of space,” hospital director Dr. Frank Baning told CNN at the facility based in the northern part of the Greater Accra region of Ghana.
Since the coronavirus pandemic ended large public gatherings, relatives have chosen to store the corpses of their loved ones in morgues for longer than usual until they can organize an appropriate funeral.
“It was difficult because there are not many other morgues to keep the bodies,” said Baning.
“Only if we are forced”
Ghanaian funerals generally last several days and up to a week in some regions. These are deeply symbolic ceremonies involving thousands of mourners to celebrate the life of the deceased.
So it was a bitter pill to swallow for many, when the country’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, imposed a ban on large gatherings.
He proposed an alternative: perform a private burial with no more than 25 guests.
Chris Awuyah, a Ghanaian professor based in the United States, lost his uncle in Ghana to natural causes in February.
“More than 2,000 people were expected to attend his funeral,” he told CNN. All of this changed when government restrictions prevented the funeral from going ahead as planned.
“A large part of the funeral consists of reuniting families. It matters to us,” said Awuyah, whose deceased 87-year-old uncle Jonas Awuyah was considered the head of the family.
“We hope we can have an appropriate funeral for him.”
He acknowledges that his family has still not reached a final conclusion as to whether to bury his uncle in private or to postpone the burial to a later date. But he hinted that he was prepared to wait as long as possible until an appropriate funeral could be scheduled.
“The only way to hold [the funeral] privately, it is if our hands are tied and we are forced. We fear that we will have to make this decision. “
A risk for health workers
Meanwhile, in Pantang, some have expressed concern that the number of bodies in his morgue has created congestion, posing a health risk to front-line workers.
Awuku told CNN that the hospital has taken all appropriate measures to ensure the safety of its workers “and that it will keep the bodies that we already have for families.”
This is part of the reason why Pantang Hospital works with families to store the bodies for as long as possible, says Awuku.
The Ghana Health Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and the country’s health minister declined to comment when CNN contacted him.
A huge balance sheet
At Gillman and Abbey Funeral Services located in Accra, they also saw an increase in the number of bodies stored in their mortuaries.
The storage of corpses is charged at a daily rate, but fewer families organize the removal of the remains.
Administrator Lawrence Apaloo says the pandemic has been “completely negative for the business.”
“Of course, the longer the body, the higher the bill,” he says. “But it is unpredictable when the family will come to collect the body.”
The other services that Gillman and Abbey provide, such as placing pallets, renting hearses, selling coffins and decorations, have completely stopped, he says.
“Everything is on hold and no one knows when things will return to normal. It has taken a heavy toll.”