Argentine expert expresses concern over mass-grave burials of Covid-19 bodies

By Cecilia Caminos

Buenos Aires, May 12 (efe-epa).- Complaints about a lack of proper respect for the dead and their family members are being heard in different parts of the world amid the coronavirus pandemic, as the urgency of caring for sick patients is making the treatment of bodies a matter of secondary importance.

The prestigious Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), a scientific non-governmental organization, is therefore stepping in and offering its expertise about how to ensure that all corpses receive a dignified final farewell and are properly registered.

An organization with vast experience identifying the remains of victims of violent conflicts, the EAAF has expressed concern in particular about observations that several countries are making the emergency decision to bury unidentified bodies in mass graves .

“In cases of mass disasters, and this is an ongoing mass disaster, there needs to be someone in government who is cool-headed not only in matters of health but also in matters of dignity and respect for the dead and their family members,” the EAAF’s executive director, Luis Fondebrider, told Efe.

At a time when more than 275,000 deaths worldwide have been blamed on Covid-19, the expert said the most important thing in this crisis is for those officials responsible for managing and handling dead bodies “to sit down at the same table and reach a joint solution.”

“This also involves funeral homes, cemeteries and hospital personnel,” he added.

The EAAF is contributing to this effort by launching an online library that brings together all available information worldwide on the management and handling of the bodies of people who perished from coronavirus-related causes, promotes families’ right to a dignified and respectful treatment of their deceased relatives and shares safe guidelines for health, forensic and funeral personnel.

That team of forensic experts, which was created to develop forensic anthropology techniques for locating and identifying the bodies of those killed during the Dirty War against dissidents carried out by the 1976-1983 Argentine military dictatorship, has been alarmed to see images of burials of multiple human corpses during the current pandemic.

“Two situations worry me: what we’ve seen in the United States … with those mass graves (burials of indigent persons) in New York, which is not a good practice; and I’m very worried about countries like Mexico and Brazil, which even before the coronavirus were very deficient in handling … unidentified bodies,” Fondebrider said.

“Mexico has thousands of unidentified bodies because of the (organized crime-related) violence. In the case of Brazil, the same thing happens: thousands of bodies end up in unmarked graves due to procedural issues,” the expert said.

The expert said each corpse should be buried individually and be correctly identified, thereby making it possible in the future for a family member to identify the body.

He added that an office must be established to attend to families desperately in search of information about their deceased loved ones.

“There’s always a way to avoid these urgent burials with no one around and no type of information,” Fondebrider said.

He said another problem amid the pandemic is how to perform an autopsy that is in keeping with all of the necessary safety standards.

“In Argentina, there’s no morgue that has the capacity to perform an autopsy of an H3 body,” Fondebrider said, referring to the category of dead bodies with the coronavirus, which must be handled using extreme safety measures such as ventilation control inside the morgue.

“That’s important to point out because there will be cases of unidentified bodies that, with the excuse of Covid-19, won’t be autopsied and will become an NN, another unidentified person,” he said. EFE-EPA


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