Health Relief At Border Tightening On Dead Bodies

About the author:

Mataeliga Pio Sioa, Newsline Samoa newspaper editor. A veteran journalist in broadcast and print media.

  • Mortuary at TTM Hospital Moto'otua
    Mortuary at TTM Hospital Moto'otua

The Ministry of Health is breathing a little easier at the new policy for tighter border control on dead bodies brought into the country.

Now in place is a Government Repatriation Policy to guide overseas families sending bodies of loved ones for burial in Samoa.

Several instances have happened in recent years where bodies arrived without health clearance documents from the country of origin.

The Director General of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, warned that the health risks are serious, not knowing the cause of death and other critical details.

Health clearance reassures there are no risks of diseases that can become epidemic from dead bodies brought into the country.

“The health risks of allowing a body into the country without proper health security clearances are as serious as the Spanish flu in the early 1900s,” Leausa cautioned.

A more recent case was of a body brought over from neighbouring American Samoa for the deceased’s home village in Manono.

The body carried no health clearance papers it was held up by border officials while contacts were made with health personnel in the US territory.

“ This was a Saturday and luckily, the time difference, made it possible for us to contact American Samoa on their Friday,” Leausa recalled.

“The basic requirements when transporting bodies between destinations is a death certificate, confirmation the body is embalmed, cause of death and date.”

The Director General Of Health is not too happy at the Ministry officials having to take the blame for delays in releasing bodies that are held up by the lack of proper documentations.

“Suddenly we’re the bad guys, the villains, because we’re holding up the family from taking the body home.”

The movement of bodies between countries follow standard international rules but Leausa is happy  the new repatriation policy for Samoa strengths health security at the borders.

Close contact with the dead, is a health risk for workers, from chronic infectious diseases that those killed may have been suffering from.

Leausa supported border clearance as the best measure to prevent against serious diseases spread into epidemics.

“If there are any serious safety risks we can handle it at the border and deal with it.

“We don’t want to allow it in and discover any epidemic causing diseases too late.”

Ministry of Health, Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministry of Agriculture (Quarantine Services) and Ministry of Revenue (Customs Services).

The ‘Policy On Repatriation Of Deceased Bodies, Human Bones and Cremains into Samoa’ tie in the Ministry of Health, Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministry of Agriculture (Quarantine Services) and Ministry of Revenue (Customs Services).

Statistics confirmed that the average number of cases approved for the repatriation of deceased human bodies on a yearly basis is forty (40).

This in turn means that over the last five (5) years the total number of requests received and approved by the Ministry of Health equates to a total of two hundred (200), and all of these requests are from Samoan Citizens residing abroad.

Under the new directions, the response time to providing the required documents  will be faster.

The Spanish Flu of 1918 killed about  8500 people or one-fifth of Samoa’s population – died.

 Influenza was brought in by people suffering from the highly infectious disease already responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths around the world at the time.