As is the situation all over India, in Mangaluru too, the burial and cremation of the bodies of COVID patients has become an issue. The workers are overworked and face a shortage of materials needed to complete their tasks in a safe and healthy manner.
There are several challenges that have arisen during the pandemic. One among them in the sudden surge of deaths, meaning there are more dead bodies on a daily basis than the workers at crematoriums and burial grounds are equipped to handle. This has given way to several groups of volunteers who are taking the initiative to solve the problem.
However, the volunteers too, are facing several problems. Without government aid, they have to pay for protective gear, PPE kits, gloves, masks, shields etc. from their own pocket. While sometimes the family of the deceased pay for the same, there have been many instances where the family simply cannot afford to do so. In these instances, volunteer organizations conduct burials on their own dime.
In addition to this, they have also been facing the issue that sometimes, the family of the deceased are too afraid to touch the body, in fear of infection. The volunteers have taken to cleaning the bodies, too, rather than just burying them as the families refrain from touching the bodies.
With it being death due to COVID, the situation becomes more complex. The bodies have to be transported from the hospital or homes by people in protective gear. The equipment costs money, and since most of the work is done on a volunteer basis, there is no government aid.
Owing to this, not all of the volunteers have sufficient protective equipment. This makes them susceptible to infection. It is a precarious situation as they are working closely with one another, if one of them gets infected, the others are likely to do the same. . They use the equipment they do have to perform the task with as much efficiency as they can, doing all they can to avoid infection.
Further, the transportation calls for another slew of issues. The transport of bodies is a task that has to be done promptly. Due to the lockdowns, the movement of civilians is restricted. The volunteers aren’t official workers, and therefore, find it hard to obtain passes to safely travel without police intervention.
They are understaffed, as it is unpaid work done in a voluntary fashion. There are several other tasks they perform in addition to this, like arranging for beds, transporting medicine, ensuring that patients get the benefits of the Ayushman card etc. This leaves them overworked and busy all day.
It goes as far as the workers not having time to stop for meals although part of the work they do is providing food to those waiting with their loved ones in the hospital and those out of work and hungry due to the lockdown. According to the workers, they don’t think of food, and eat when they can. That falls low on their list of worries.
The majority of the current crisis falls to the lack of attention from the administration. When asked what they could use assistance with, the answers were many. This includes PPE kits, face masks, shields, gloves, passes for transport etc.
However, a volunteer stated that the real help they would get is only from the government. He said that for now they are able to feed themselves while still providing assistance to people, and that without proper measures taken people would be left without food to eat. He said that there was a dire need of lockdowns to be implemented well, keeping measures for daily wage workers and those who cannot earn money during a lockdown. He said there was also a need for ambulances, and protective gear provided by the government to ensure that people can be transported safely.
According to him, while there are plenty of medical colleges and hospitals in Mangalore, the surrounding areas are suffering and people are unable to seek treatment. While the volunteers are doing all they can to assist the patients, and help provide proper services for the deceased, there is only so much they can do. Without government aid, it will be impossible to continue this for as long as it needs to be done.