By Tope Templer Olaiya, Assistant Lagos City Editor
ISOLO General Hospital comfortably stands out among first-rate secondary health care facilities in Lagos State. From the main gate into the expansive compound, its ambience, which could be mistaken for a university teaching hospital, is inviting to any visitor.
The sour point of this beautiful hospital, however, is the deplorable condition of the mortuary, which the state government last week announced would be shut on Tuesday, March 26 in the interest of public health.
Long before the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, announced the closure of the mortuary, there had been complaints by residents of Isolo, who have for years endured a poignant odour oozing out of the premises of the General Hospital.
At first, the source of the odour was suspect due to the imposing dumpsite and hyacinth-covered Oke-Afa canal, located a few metres to the hospital, but this was given away by the whiff oozing from the building housing the morgue, which is isolated at a far corner in the hospital.
While management and staffers of the General Hospital have kept mum over the state of the mortuary, which had for years been an eyesore, citing a new rule in the state, which forbids officials from speaking with the press without official clearance, it has been a subdued relief for residents, who are already counting down to the March 26 deadline.
Uchendu Kingsley is happy that, at last, government has seen reason to prevent environmental pollution and health hazards to passers-by and Isolo residents by closing the facility.
“There have been several interventions to bring this to the notice of government and personally, I wrote an open letter to the governor in July 2011, which was published by the media on the deplorable state of the mortuary.”
“When the governor visited the hospital last year to commission the Maternal and Childcare Centre, the community leaders also brought the matter to the fore and he promised to redress the situation.
“We are, therefore, pleased with this decision of government though I don’t see any reason there can’t be a lasting solution to prevent the decomposing corpses from polluting the environment.
“Maintaining a mortuary is not rocket science, if the necessary equipment are in place,” he said.
A mortuary attendant, who did not want his name mentioned, told The Guardian that a new mortuary was under construction, which when completed, would be operated under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement.
“It would be under the care of a woman, who is at present managing the mortuary at Ikeja and at Mainland Hospital, IDH, Yaba.”
Explaining the reason for the nauseating smell of the mortuary, the attendant attributed the cause of the odour to abandoned corpses dumped at the mortuary. “Many of the bodies picked on the streets by policemen, especially armed robbers and victims of hit-and-run drivers are brought in here, sometimes in a decomposing state. We cannot, therefore, lump them together with bodies transferred from the hospital or kept here by the deceased relatives.”
In life and in death, there is hierarchy. So, at the general hospital, the priority is to attend to those whose corpse would be paid for, while the unclaimed bodies are lumped in the ante-room, which explains the odour that has got residents worried.
While preferential treatment is given to bodies duly registered and accounted for by relatives, unclaimed bodies are not adequately preserved by the hospital. Worse still, there is no use for them, as they cannot be torn open by medical students as cadavers, since it is not a teaching hospital.
A provision has already been made for unclaimed bodies at the Mainland General Hospital, Yaba. This was contained in the statement made by the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, who said the recently renovated mortuary has been designated a Social Responsibility Centre, which would receive and accommodate only some categories of bodies.
Available mortuaries in Lagos are Gbagada General Hospital, General Hospital Lagos, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Lagos Island General Hospital, Ikorodu General Hospital, Epe General Hospital and a few private morgues.
With the current population of Lagos put at about 20.19 million, the number of available mortuaries is a far cry from what would be required in the emerging mega-city. When The Guardian visited the about-to-be-closed mortuary at Isolo, there were over 500 bodies yet to be claimed by relatives, while those categorized as abandoned had been hauled away in a van to Mainland General Hospital, Yaba.
An ambulance driver at the hospital, who had been rendered jobless by this latest directive, Mr. Michael Adekoya, said government should reduce the money charged by the hospitals for the use of the mortuary. He also wants private individuals to invest in building private morgues to break the monopoly of government in the business.
“By the grace of God, I am planning to establish a private facility in my hometown in Ijebu Ode, Ogun State because I love the job. It pays to care for the dead and it is a lucrative business abroad. Many of our countrymen who travel abroad go there to wash corpses, why should they be ashamed of doing it at home. There is nothing special about having private morgues; it is not as complex as building a refinery.”
“The money charged by Lagos State Government is too high. Their mortuaries collect as high as N45, 000 to N50, 000, with a daily sleeping allowance of N1,000. Last week, I took a corpse to Owerri. The man died at night and the next morning the body was on its way to Owerri. I was surprised that the mortuary there only collected N5,000 with a daily sleeping allowance of N200. No wonder, most people prefer to take their dead back home away from Lagos, where everything is expensive,” he said.
For Adekoya, he loves his job and he is not in it for the money. “My joy is offering assistance to the bereaved and the dead. We should learn to care for ourselves, whether dead or alive. And I am proud to do this in my country and not in a white man’s land.”