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Mortuaries bursting at seams

2021-07-23  Eveline de Klerk

Mortuaries bursting at seams

WALVIS BAY – The sharp increase in Covid-19 deaths have put ageing and inadequate state mortuary facilities in the regions under severe

Private businesses have now stepped in to provide their facilities, including refrigerator trucks. Several health directors New Era spoke to this week indicated that some of the facilities can only take between three and 16 bodies at once. Some are also not functional, thus putting additional strain on the operational ones. 

Some regions were lucky with the business communities  coming to their aid in the form of refrigerator containers deployed as
temporary mortuaries. 

“We recently had to contract private funeral undertakers to assist as we had an overwhelming amount of bodies in the Omaheke region,”  said regional health director Jeremia Shikulo. He added Covid-19 and related deaths peaked at its highest in the region during the last two weeks of June and the first week of July.

“That was really a massive challenge for us as the state facility could only accommodate 16 bodies,” he said. 

By 19 July, the region had recorded 150 Covid-19 deaths and four related deaths.

Kavango West health director Fransiska Hamutenya also told New Era that their situation is also not really under control, despite the fact that they are a rural type of set up. “We have a district hospital but its mortuary is a bit small. Last week, it was full to capacity,” she said. 

She added that they have a capacity for at least 20 bodies. She said the Nkurenkuru mortuary was also not functioning well, forcing them to transport a corpse to the closest health facility, which was about 60 kilometres. “We are monitoring the situation as we are seeing a rise in our cases currently. Hopefully, we will make plans to assist us cope and be ready if our deaths increase,” she said. 

Otjozondjupa health director Gebhardo Timotheus said that they have been under severe strain regarding mortuary space but businesses and government came on board to ease the situation.

“Otjiwarongo is feeling the pressure but we have now received a container to use as a temporary mortuary that adds additional capacity up to 40 and relieves the pressure for now,” he said. He added the state facility previously could only take four despite having a capacity of 16 bodies.  

“However, a company fixed it and with the container along, it’s an added bonus,” he said. 

The health director also said the same company fixed the Otavi mortuary and the Okakarara state facility that can also accommodate four bodies.

“The Osire Refugee Camp mortuary was also repaired. So, the situation is not so dire for us anymore,” Timotheus said.

Erongo governor Neville Andre said the Walvis Bay, Usakos and Swakopmund state mortuaries are currently coping.

“Walvis Bay recently received a refrigerator container with a 60-body capacity while the hospital’s mortuary can take up to 20 bodies.  Swakopmund is handling the situation. They have three mortuaries and are currently also assisting the private hospital in Swakopmund. Omaruru is a bit problematic for the region. That is why we are currently mobilising stakeholders to expand Omaruru’s capacity,” he explained.

Ohangwena health director John Hango admitted to challenges, although this is dependent on the number of deaths they deal with.  Currently, he said, they have three mortuaries, all situated at the three district hospitals.

“Of course, it is difficult to determine whether it is enough as that is also determined by the rate of the burials,” Hango said. 

At least 83 people have died in the Ohangwena region due to Covid-19 as of Tuesday this week.



Health ministry director executive Ben Nangombe also explained the pandemic is challenging for the state mortuaries around the country, as they were not designed in a way to cope with the current death rate.

In June, the health ministry expressed concern over the piling up of more than 200 unclaimed bodies at the state mortuary in Windhoek. The City of Windhoek stepped in and cremated about 180 bodies to make space for the ever-increasing amount of deaths.

“It is even going to be more strained if we don’t change our behaviour,” he said.

However, Nangombe said the ministry last week received six refrigerated containers valued at N$1 million from Namport and Maersk shipping liners to use as temporary mortuaries. 

“Two of the modified refrigerator containers will be used in Windhoek as temporary mortuaries, while Otjiwarongo, Rehoboth, Gobabis and Onandjokwe will receive one each,” he said.

“This donation at least eases the current situation. However, it is still not enough. The deaths are increasing by the day, especially in the Kavango and northern regions.”

Nangombe also thanked the private sector that has assisted towns such as Mariental, Walvis Bay and Okahandja with temporary mortuary facilities.

A total of 2 665 people have died due to the pandemic in the country, while cumulative confirmed cases stand at 114 400. 


2021-07-23  Eveline de Klerk

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