Family claims bad handling of 'Ebola' corpse

HARARE - The husband of a Mbare woman who was suspected by authorities to have died of Ebola in Guinea Conakry has rejected claims that they attempted to steal the body from a funeral parlour.

The distraught family also blew holes on official claims that mourners were disinfected and thorough safety precautions were taken. 

The deceased, Tarisai Gombakomba, died in Guinea Conakry — an Ebola-torn country in West Africa on December 18. Her body was transported to Harare via France and Ethiopia and reached Zimbabwe on January 15.

Gombakomba was employed in Guinea Conakry as a domestic worker since 2009 by Oumou Younosa Sal — the World Health Organisation’s country representative in Guinea.

She first complained of shoulder pain and general body weakness in November last year, before she developed blisters on her face which later spread to her whole body.

After she died on December 18 last year, her remains were repatriated home, sparking all the drama.

While authorities claimed her remains were packaged in three body bags, covered in zinc metal sheet and then placed in a sealed metal coffin before being flown back to Zimbabwe for burial four weeks ago, the family told the Daily News this week the body was in fact in a wooden coffin.

The relatives claim that they were not even treated or fumigated as claimed by authorities.

“We have videos proving that we were not protected during the burial, it was just the burial officials who were covered, they dropped our body and it broke, meaning the virus also escaped then. The body was even buried next to other graves,” the husband said.

Gombakomba’s son said: “They treated the kombi which ferried us to the burial site leaving us the people who were likely to spread the virus?”

A City Health report claimed the coffin was disinfected before handling. The report also claimed the funeral parlour was disinfected, with chloride of lime spread in the grave before, during and after the burial process.

The family claims all this is false.

Soon after arrival on January 14, 2015 — the body was released into the care of Angel Light Funeral Services, of 152 Harare Street.

The remains were later transferred to Fidelity Funeral Parlour at corner Jason Moyo Avenue and Harare Street, as Angel Light Funeral Services does not have mortuary facilities.

In a demonstration of how seriously authorities took the matter, the government claims it dictated where Gombakomba’s remains were to be buried.

They also did not allow her sealed remains to be opened for viewing by relatives, and to be taken to 24 Canaan Mhlanga Road in Mbare, where her funeral wake was held before her burial on January 16.

Gombakomba’s interment only happened late at night on the drama-filled day when her grieving relatives created serious official pandemonium after they allegedly “stole” her remains from Fidelity Funeral Parlour, intending to bury the deceased in Zimunya rather than in Harare as had been dictated by authorities.

The City of Harare health report claimed the quick-thinking authorities were able to intercept the relatives along the way, after police mounted road blocks along the Harare-Mutare highway and seized the body from them and took it back to Fidelity Funeral Parlour.

Gombakomba’s emotional husband and anguished son, who had accompanied the body from Guinea Conakry, allegedly jumped on top of the coffin carrying the deceased as authorities confiscated it, the report claimed.

But Gombakomba’s husband staunchly denied the official version that he stole his deceased wife’s body. 

“We did not steal the body,” he told the Daily News. “For one to get the body from the mortuary, you need a burial order and we had obtained that through our funeral parlour, Angel Light Funeral Services.

“Moreover, no one forcibly took the body from us, we received a phone call from the ministry and we came back since we believed our paperwork was complete.”

The husband spoke on condition his name is not published.

The husband, who is now back in Guinea, said the state took over the burial and promised to compensate his expenses but failed to do so.

“I transported my wife’s body from Guinea because I wanted to bury her properly and I did everything to inform the government. They cleared the body but all of a sudden they shifted goalposts claiming that the body was coming from an Ebola-infested country so they had to take over and conduct the burial,” the husband said.

“They even wanted to burn it but we objected, I could not have gone through the difficulties of bringing her to her homeland so that she could just be burned.”

Together with his relatives, the husband said if indeed Gombakomba had succumbed to Ebola, then authorities were not ready to deal with the deadly disease.

“We handled the coffin and the husband even handled the corpse in Guinea, we were in contact with children who in turn went to school.

“If it was Ebola, then it means many people would have been in danger,” said one of the female relatives.

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