Sri Lanka Medical Association backs burial of COVID-19 bodies

The Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) says based on observations it has made and relying on currently available scientific information, the burial of COVID-19 bodies could be permitted in Sri Lanka.

SLMA said that since the recent past, the disposal of COVID-19 dead bodies has affected ethnic harmony in Sri Lanka.

“In view of the cultural diversity of Sri Lanka, it is essential to have a proper policy for disposal of the dead which is acceptable to all,” SLMA said.

SLMA noted that based on the limited scientific evidence available at the initial stages, a decision was made by the Director General of Health Services of the Ministry of Health to cremate all dead bodies of COVID-19 positive patients.

However, SLMA noted that since then, there has been significant unrest among some communities regarding the government’s decision to impose compulsory cremation as the only avenue of disposal of COVID-19 deaths.

“This has the potential to cause much civil unrest. As a result, it was also found that people were generally reluctant to cooperate with the COVID control measures implemented by the Government. Many of them avoided seeing doctors and hence there were several deaths occurring at home without seeking medical attention or treatment,” SLMA said.

In view of all these considerations, the SLMA decided to review the situation as a matter of urgency, taking into account some new scientific knowledge available now regarding the COVID-19 disease.

SLMA had a meeting of the medical experts in all relevant fields on 31st December 2020.

After extensive deliberations the SLMA has observed that COVID infection occurs only through respiratory route and that there are no reported infections through any other routes, including the gastro-intestinal portal.

The SLMA also observed that the virus itself can thrive only inside a living cell and as such, it is unlikely that it could remain infectious within a dead body for any significant period of time.

A positive PCR found post-mortem does not necessarily mean that the dead body is
infectious.

SLMA also observed that the contamination of water supply by sewage, consisting of excretions and secretions of COVID-19 infected patients could be much worse than any possible contamination from buried corpses.

it also noted that although there are a few instances reported where viral particles have been isolated from ground water, there are no reports of them being infective. There are also no records of such infection even with older viruses like influenza and SARS-CoV-I, which have been studied in much greater detail.

SLMA also says the reported planned exhumation and cremation of large numbers of minks culled in Denmark was not due to any possible contamination of water resources by the virus. It was due to a large amount of nitrogenous waste from these decomposing mink carcasses contaminating the nearby water sources and polluting the environment.

Even in the case of severe waterborne diseases like Cholera, burial of corpses was one of
the practices of disposal of infected dead bodies.

Based on these observations made and relying on currently available scientific information, the council of the Sri Lanka Medical Association is of the view that burial of COVID-19 dead bodies could be permitted in Sri Lanka. (Colombo Gazette)

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