ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s College of Community Physicians (CCPSL) has made a definitive statement as to whether the remains of people who die of Covid 19 can be buried saying that there is no solid evidence indicating that burial of dead bodies would increase the spread of the disease.
The CCPSL is the apex body of Community Medicine Specialists in Sri Lanka who have post-graduate qualifications in the subject.
The statement released on its website said with “the available scientific evidence and the impact of the decision on cremation on pandemic control activities at large, CCPSL concludes that adhering to global guidelines, each citizen of Sri Lanka should be allowed to be cremated or buried as per his/her and the family’s desire within the strict guidelines recommended by the Ministry of Health.”
The statement is the first from the country’s most authoritative body on the subject adding more heft to statements by Virologists, Epidemiologists and other experts against Sri Lanka’s current policy of cremating the remains of all persons who have succumbed to the pandemic.
Sri Lanka and China are the only countries of the world enforcing compulsory cremation which goes against the religious beliefs of adherents of the Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. All other countries allow cremation or burial depending on the preferences of the family concerned.
In its statement, the CCPSL noted that there “are cultural implications of COVID-19 in relation to disease spread, case detection, treatment, prevention and control and also in relation to the management of dead bodies. These complex interactions may create situations which may adversely affect the pandemic control activities. The present guidelines on safe disposal of dead bodies of a person infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus in Sri Lanka have created such a situation.”
The College said that at the outset of the pandemic it accepted the government decision to cremate the corpses of all the people who died of Covid 19.
“However, the subsequent accumulation of evidence forces us to rethink and revise the recommendations. This position paper is intended to voice a scientific opinion in this debate after examining the currently available evidence,” it added.
The paper pointed out that with “more than 85,000 published scientific literature on COVID-19, not a single case has been reported due to virus transmitted through a dead body. A report published in May 2020 suggested that two forensic medicine professionals contracted COVID-19 from a corpse, but later an erratum was published by the authors that the article was not on a case of confirmed transmission of COVID-19 from the corpse. The claims on the SARS-CoV-2 spread directly through groundwater have not been scientifically substantiated and there is no indication that the virus could be transmitted through drinking water. As per the viral biology, these viruses need a host cell to survive for a long period.”
The statement also said that the principal sources and routes of potential transmission of the virus in water systems could be “hospital sewage, waste from isolation and quarantine centres, faecal-oral transmission, contaminated surface and groundwater sources and contaminated sewage, but not the dead bodies. Coronaviruses die off rapidly in wastewater within 2 to 4 days and the process is rapid in higher temperatures as in Sri Lanka.”
“COVID-19 pandemic has taught the world many lessons: one is about the importance of collective responsibility vs. individual responsibility in shaping the wellbeing of all. A proper COVID-19 control strategy has to be all-inclusive, lest, could end up in endangering the lives of all. This is the true meaning of Whole-of-Government, Whole-of-Society approach. A scientific cost-benefit evaluation is required in culturally sensitive issues which might affect the participation of some communities in disease control activities such as getting engaged in early detection, contact tracing, volunteering with correct information and in seeking healthcare,” it added. (Colombo, December 31, 2020)
Reported by Arjuna Ranawana