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Lagos mortuaries overflow with unclaimed corpses


THE issue of corpses and animal carcasses on the  highways will never cease to constitute an irritating, embarrassing and environmentally unpleasant sight not to mention its public health implications.

Today, a corpse on the streets and other public places in Lagos is headline news. No bystander, pedestrian or motorist, would ignore a decomposing human or stray animal body lying by the sidewalk, the gutter or middle of the highway – victim of one misadventure or the other.

Such development is readily described as abominable and disrespect of the human element, which, even in death, deserves to be respected. That is why every responsible Lagosian does the right thing by calling attention of the authorities to take care of such bodies.

But a decade and a half ago, things were not done this way. Once upon a time, unidentified or unidentifiable dead bodies littered the streets of Lagos confetti, and no one cared – because there was no care available for such eventualities. Hence, hardly would a day go by without one or more corpses on the roads  left to rot away.

Problem of unclaimed corpses

By every standard, the old mortuary at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, was an eyesore – not helped by the increasing problem of unclaimed corpses. Even following the commissioning of a state-of-the-art 52-chamber mortuary, to replace the moribund morgue, the problem of unclaimed corpses prevailed.

The old mortuary was eventually closed down and the building converted into a histopathology laboratory where cases of suspected cancer investigations are carried out as part of the necessary steps to get the teaching hospital and college of medicine accredited.

The new mortuary was gradually upgraded into a100-chamber facility and it is the second ultra modern mortuary facility to be floated by the state administration after the one at the Gbagada General Hospital. Today though, the story in the state is different.

Although removal of corpses from the highways is statutory responsibility of local government councils, neglect of this activity by the aforementioned occasioned an executive mandate by the State Governor to the Ministry of Health to take over the duty of ridding the streets and roads of corpses by setting up of the Lagos State Environmental Health Monitoring Unit, SEHMU,.

It was in response to the spate of corpses on the roads, the Lagos State government instituted the SEMHU as an arm of the State Ministry of Health tasked with the responsibility of evacuating  corpses from the roads.

Since the Unit was launched August 21, 2000 to rid the streets of Lagos State of corpses and other health-related hazards, the story has changed for the better.

While there is no specific data, Vanguard investigations reveal that the SEHMU with clearly cut out responsibility has so far picked in excess of an estimated 25,000 corpses to date, or an average of 2, 000 bodies per year.

Unclaimed and unidentified corpses continue to populate the morgues and the state government is often compelled to carry out series of mass burials. Unclaimed bodies readily pile up at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, Ikeja; Isolo General Hospital and Gbagada General Hospital mortuaries.

Several of the bodies which are often in various stages of decomposition, and there were instances of corpses kept at the mortuaries for upwards of one year. Although the Director of the SEHMU, Dr. Olayeni Adeyemo, was not available to speak, it was gathered that the unit combs highways and public places to evacuate  dead bodies daily and drops them in the state’s mortuaries where they are treated as coroner cases.


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