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‘Muslim postmortems can’t be prioritized’: health department

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The Western Cape Department of Health has confirmed that historically, the department has tried to prioritize postmortem examinations for deceased of the Islamic faith. But the department’s Marika Champion says it is no longer in a position to do priority postmortems, due to the increasing case load of the forensic pathology service.

“We can only do postmortem cases as they present themselves,” she told VOC News.

She was responding to the anger from the Muslim community that a long standing agreement of prioritizing the autopsies of Muslim bodies was changed this week to a first in first out basis, meaning that Muslim families can wait for up to two weeks for the release of their loved ones. On Friday morning, a number of Muslim undertakers and family members currently waiting for their relatives bodies to be released, protested outside the Salt River mortuary.

While the normal processing of bodies will continue, any person who dies from an unnatural death, primarily due to violence, will require a postmortem investigation. Champion said these cases would be delayed from seven to 11 days.

On Friday, the chairperson of the Muslim Cemetery Board, Shaykh Riad Fataar confirmed that the five Muslim bodies pending at the Salt River mortuary will be released by Monday.

At the Salt River mortuary, the department has over the past few months funded 6 additional forensic pathology officer posts and also appointed an additional medical officer. Approval has been granted for two additional registrars or medical officer posts. The forensic pathology sector will remain under pressure as it is a rare skill.

“These approvals will alleviate the pressure. But internal contingency plans are currently being made on an ad-hoc basis to reduce the immediate pressure,” said Champion.

A meeting is being planned for Monday with the MJC and there will be dialogue on the matter.

“We want to assure the community of the best service at all times and we honour the Muslim faith. We want to keep the positive relationship that we do have in future.” VOC

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