Forensic experts flag lack of biosafety standards in mortuaries

Forensic experts have flagged the lack of biosafety mechanisms in a majority of hospital mortuaries in the State against the backdrop of a government order to conduct post-mortem examination on COVID-19 suspected persons without waiting for their lab results.

The order by Rajan Khobragade, Principal Secretary, Health, on August 6, says that hospital superintendents and doctors should ensure that bodies are handed over to relatives “at the earliest”.

It says the samples of suspected patients who are brought dead should be taken, pointing out that the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had cleared the release of bodies without waiting for COVID-19 lab results.

If there is no need for a post-mortem examination, the body can be handed over to the relatives after getting a no-objection certificate from the police. However, if the police officer suggests otherwise, post-mortem examination should be performed without waiting for the lab results “as if the patient is COVID positive” and “by taking all the precautions”.

In a letter to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, functionaries of the Kerala Medico-legal Society, an organisation of police surgeons and medico-legal experts, claimed that any autopsy was a time-consuming procedure performed in detail for determining the cause of death and to rule out murders.

“Being a highly invasive and aerosol-generating procedure, personal protection equipment will not be sufficient to protect health professionals in the mortuary,” T.S. Hithesh Sankar, secretary of the society, said.

He said doctors, mortuary technicians, and other staff were exposed to potentially high and dangerous health risks due to coming in direct contact with infected organs, fluids, and secretions “even after taking highest precautions”.

“Also, none of the mortuary theatres here meet the biosafety standards and there is no facility to disinfect the place after performing autopsy of an infected person. If adequate attention is not paid, the medico-legal structure in the State will collapse due to the increased risk of exposure. Kerala does not have enough forensic medicine specialists too,” Dr. Sankar said.

He claimed that the delay in handing over the body to relatives could be avoided if the test results were made available immediately after the death. The society urged the Chief Minister to freeze the above order and hold talks with medico-legal experts before taking further action.

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Printable version | Sep 22, 2020 9:02:07 PM |

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