Members of the Volta Hearse Drivers Association are appealing to the public to leave the handling of deceased persons to health professionals only to prevent the spread of contagious diseases.
At a stakeholders meeting organised by the Volta Regional Environmental Health Department, members of the Association spoke against attempts by family members of deceased persons to assume the role of undertakers.
They also decried the usage of undesignated vehicles including motorbikes to convey bodies, noting that all dead bodies carried some risks of passing on diseases.
“All kinds of bodies are brought to the morgue, including highly infectious ones, and you see family members all over them. They are some of the hidden killers we are unaware of”, Togbui Kponvi III, Vice Chairman of the Association said.
He advised that morgues are directed not to accept or release bodies, which had not been processed by professionals.
Chairman of the Association, Mr Evans Yao Kumah, commended the efforts of the Environmental Health Department, and appealed to the public not to risk lives by attempting to use the hearse as a regular means of transport, adding that no none was allowed to ride with the body.
“People want to stay with the body in the vehicle. Only one person is allowed to sit next to the driver to give directions. Sometimes we are forced to use the hearse to carry furniture and even drinking water to the funeral grounds with the body on board, which is very bad.
“We always encounter unapproved persons handling bodies and then proceeding immediately to shake hands and interact with others. Sometimes we the hearse drivers are asked to help load the bodies, which is not our job”, he stated.
Mr Kumah told the Ghana News Agency that greater stakeholder support was needed to effectively educate the public on the dangers, adding that the Association had committed to helping provide the needed sensitization.
“We have already devoted ourselves. If they (stakeholders) would do as promised, all things would be fine. Support us to help ensure a risk-free nation”, he said, calling on drivers yet to join the Association to do so.
Mr David Atikpli, Head of the Ho Municipal Hospital Morgue, and Organiser of the Association said although the Health Directorate had in place strict policies on handling dead bodies even at homes, many were not complying with the policies.
“People are ignorant of the risks involved in handling dead bodies. They touch them with bare hands not knowing that formaldehyde makes the bodies poisonous. Once the person dies, lots of sicknesses prevail”, he said.
Mr Atikpli noted that the Region was gradually embracing the need to sheath bodies in bags as a preventive measure against disease contagion, and said more body bags and also face masks and other personal protection equipment would be needed, particularly in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mrs Sybil Boison, the Regional Environmental Health Officer, together with the Association explored ways of ensuring all hearses were properly disinfected, including the option of training and resourcing vehicle washing bays to provide the service.
She said the Department would engage stakeholders to enforce a ban on unauthorized vehicles carrying bodies, and would undertake public education campaigns in all districts.
Mrs Boison said a database of hearse drivers in the Region would be built and made available to the public, and promised continuous collaboration with the Association for progress on their shared mandate.
She asked mortuary attendants to keep their workplaces attractive to customers, and promised to give them face masks in addition to education on the COVID-19 disease.
The Association has over 40 members in the Region, which includes undertakers.