Corruption syndicates involving medical doctors, police officers, mortuary staff and agents of some little known funeral service companies are charging between US$40 and US$100 to speed up the post-mortem process and even have bodies of accident victims released for burial without Covid-19 tests.
In some cases it appears that the agents are just extorting money, without actually doing anything or having anything done.
In other cases they say if you take the sample to a private laboratory you can have the body released as soon as the result comes back.
At the centre of the graft are agents, touting for clients at hospital mortuaries and entrances, who claim to be connected to medical doctors and police officers on duty at the mortuaries.
While touting for clients on behalf of their funeral service companies, they end up making extra money through soliciting bribes from bereaved families who do not wish to wait any longer for the bodies to be released.
They tell families it can take 48 hours using the Government hospital testing facilities for the results of a Covid-19 test to reach the mortuary.
The practice is rampant at Sally Mugabe Hospital where some funeral service agents mill around the mortuary waiting area touting for clients, or more recently following strict rules to cut numbers gathering at the mortuary, in the main hospital car park.
Sally Mugabe Hospital chief executive Dr Christopher Pasi said his office had received a number of reports since last year on the corrupt practices but had great difficulty trying to pin anything down.
“The corruption involves two willing participants, who agree to break the law and keep it a secret. It is difficult to apprehend the culprits because none of the parties is ready to give us any information. Investigations are still in progress.”
Dr Pasi said the hospital was overwhelmed with bodies and corruption syndicates may be taking advantage of the backlog in Covid-19 testing, to swindle people.
“It is true that our results may take longer because we have a backlog. All sudden death bodies are tested for Covid-19 before post-mortem. We cannot rule out the possibility that some corrupt elements may take advantage of the backlog to extort bereaved families,” said Dr Pasi.
The Herald went undercover at Sally Mugabe and Chitungwiza hospitals with a view to establish the truth.
At Sally Mugabe Hospital, the reporter was approached by an agent who introduced himself as “Runzirwai” marketing services offered by “Geora Funeral Services”.
Runzirwai claimed he was connected to some medical doctors and mortuary staff who could assist in speeding up the release of bodies for burial.
“Covid-19 testing and the release of results may take up to 48 hours. Post-mortem will then be done when the results are known. As we speak, the doctor is in and waiting to do post-mortem in respect of bodies whose Covid-19 results are out.
“I can go inside and ask him to work on your relative’s body without Covid-19 test so that you get your body today for burial. I will hear how much he wants for the service but it is a big risk to carry out post-mortem on a body whose Covid-19 status is not known. To be safe just reserve US$100 to be shared among all those involved, including the police and the mortuary staff,” he said.
Because of the Covid-19 hospital rules barring visitors, most funeral service companies’ agents were touting for clients in a car park near Sally Mugabe Hospital.
In the car park, the reporter met another agent who introduced himself as “Josphat”. He was marketing the services offered by a company called “Siloton Funeral Services”.
To prove his strong links with medical doctors, Josphat called a man that he claimed was a medical doctor and put his phone on loud speaker for the “client” to hear. The said doctor’s number was saved as “Chiremba” on Josphat’s mobile phone.
The doctor said he was in town but referred Josphat to someone called “Mutangirwa” for assistance.
“Here in Harare your money makes life easier. Doctors may even leave their work at private surgeries and rush here to assist you. The doctor said he will be back around noon and if you are now in a rush we can wait for him. But if you are impatient, we can engage the doctor on duty now.
“If you have US$40, we can do it now and ensure you collect the body in an hour’s time. I have to take your papers to the police post and deal with the officers there before taking them to the mortuary,” said Josphat.
At Chitungwiza Hospital two men, who were sitting in a Nissan Vanette inscribed “Hatina Musha Funeral Services”, said there was a backlog in Coviod-19 testing at the hospital and people had an option to take their relatives’ samples for testing to external laboratories.
“Under normal circumstances, swabs are taken from the corpse and you, as relatives, are given the samples and you take them to Lancet where you will pay US$60.
“Since you said your relative died in an accident, we can talk to the doctor on duty and negotiate the immediate release of the body without a Covid-19 test. It is a matter of paperwork and you get the body in an hour.
“You simply have to pay US$50 but it is negotiable,” said one of the agents