Colombo, November 13 (Daily Mirror) – The United Nations in Sri Lanka, yesterday, in a letter to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa reiterated the UN’s concern over the Health Ministry guidelines which stipulate cremation as the only method for the disposal of dead bodies of COVID-19 infected persons.
In the letter by UN Resident Coordinator, Hanaa Singer, she said the common assumption that people who died of a communicable disease should be cremated to prevent spread is not supported by evidence. Instead, cremation is a matter of cultural choice and available resources.
“According to the World Health Organizations guidance, people who have died from COVID-19 can therefore be buried or cremated according to local standards and family preferences, with appropriate protocols for handling the body,” Singer said.
“In the same context, I deem it important to inform you that I have received impassioned appeals from within and outside the Muslim community that perceived the current policy on burials as discriminatory. Against this background, I fear that not allowing burials is having a negative effect on social cohesion and, more importantly, could also adversely impact the measures for containing the spread of the virus as it may discourage people to access medical care when they have symptoms or history of contact,” she added.
She further wrote that she recognized that during epidemics, for reasons of public health, governments often needed to take difficult and at times unpopular measures. However, in this case, the negative consequences of not allowing burials seem to outweigh any potential epidemiological benefit.
“Considering the evidence-based guidance of the World Health Organization, as well as the commitments of the Government of Sri Lanka to respect and uphold the rights of all communities, I therefore express my hope that the existing policy be revised so as to allow the safe and dignified burial of COVID-19 victims,” she said.
She further said that the United Nations and its specialized agencies, funds and programmes will continue providing support on the management of the epidemic in Sri Lanka.
The letter was also addressed to Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi and Justice Minister Ali Sabry. (Jamila Husain)