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The Red Cross and WHO affirm that bodies from natural disasters and conflicts typically do not present a health hazard.


Sep 15, 2023

With the devastating loss of life caused by disasters and conflicts, there are often unfounded fears and misconceptions about the dead. Therefore, it is important that communities are equipped with the tools and information they need to manage bodies safely and with dignity. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the World Health Organization (WHO) announced today that this is part of their efforts to support survivors on the road to recovery.

Many people die in natural disasters and armed conflicts, and the presence of their bodies is distressing for affected communities. To cope with the pain, and sometimes out of fear that the bodies may pose a health threat, some people rush to bury their bodies in mass graves. This approach could have a negative impact on people, the organization said. Local authorities and communities may be under great pressure to bury the dead quickly, but the effects of mismanagement of the dead include not only social and legal issues but also long-term consequences for families. It also includes mental pain.

Properly managed burials include ensuring that individual graves within demarcated burial grounds are easily traceable and properly recorded. This ensures the exact location of each body, relevant information, and belongings as outlined in the guidance produced by each organization, in particular, the ICRC/IFRC/WHO Post-Disaster Deadly Management Manual.

Cremation should not take place until the identity of the body has been positively determined. To help better manage the dead, these organizations provide local authorities with supplies and expertise to help them manage the sometimes daunting task of burying the dead. Currently in Libya, Red Cross and WHO teams are working directly with authorities, local communities, and the Libyan Red Crescent Society, supporting them with guidance, materials, and training. Both the ICRC and WHO are delivering body bags to Libya to support the dignified treatment of the dead.

The bodies of people who die from wounds sustained in natural disasters or armed conflicts rarely pose a health risk to local communities. This is because victims who die from trauma, drowning, or fire usually do not carry disease-causing microorganisms if common precautions are taken. Exceptions include deaths from infectious diseases such as Ebola, Marburg disease, and cholera, or when disasters occur in areas where these diseases are endemic. Under any circumstances, carcasses near or within water stations can lead to health concerns. Bodies can leak feces and contaminate water sources, leading to the risk of diarrhea and other diseases. Do not leave the body in contact with drinking water sources.

“The idea that corpses cause infectious diseases is not supported by evidence. Too often, media reports and even some medical professionals misunderstand this issue,” ICRC Forensic Medicine Division said Pierre Guyaumarche, director of “People who survive events such as natural disasters are more likely to spread disease than dead bodies.” “We urge authorities in areas affected by tragedies not to rush ahead with mass burials or mass cremations. “The dignified management of human remains is important for families and communities and, in cases of conflict, is often a key element in bringing fighting to a faster end,” says WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, Biosafety. said Dr. Kazunobu Kojima, medical officer for biosecurity.

“Unnecessarily hastening the disposal of the remains of those killed in disasters and conflicts deprives families of the opportunity to identify and memorialize their loved ones and provides no public health benefit. “There is a need to take appropriate time to identify the deceased, mourn, and perform funerals in accordance with local cultural and social norms,” ​​said Gwen, IFRC’s Senior Emergency Public Health Officer and Morocco Earthquake Response and Emergency Activities Officer.・Mr. Eamer said.

The ICRC, IFRC, and WHO would like to remind authorities and communities that: Although it is sad to see dead bodies, community leaders and authorities should not rush to bury bodies in mass graves or conduct mass cremations. Burial and cremation procedures must take into account cultural, religious, and familial considerations. The remains of people who died in natural disasters or armed conflicts are generally not a source of disease. The risk of infection is increased unless the deceased died from a highly contagious disease. The average person can ignore it. However, drinking water contaminated with fecal material from carcasses risks causing diarrhea. Regular disinfection of drinking water is sufficient to prevent waterborne diseases. Rapid and unceremonious mass burials and cremations make it more difficult, and in some cases impossible, to identify the dead and notify their families. It is only when a corpse dies that it poses a health risk from communicable diseases. It occurs due to some infectious diseases or when natural disasters occur in areas where such diseases are endemic. Lime dust does not accelerate decomposition, and bodies from disasters and conflicts generally do not pose an infection risk, so disinfection of these bodies is not necessary. Is required. After contact with the deceased, hands should be washed with soap and water or, if not visibly soiled, with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

The ICRC, IFRC, and WHO call on all parties to conflict and disaster responders to adhere to established principles for the management of human remains for the benefit of society as a whole and provide further support where necessary.

By Editor

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