A senior official of Multan’s Nishtar Hospital on Friday sought to blame police and rescue officials for the presence of dozens of decaying bodies on the facility’s roof, maintaining that there was nothing untoward about the incident that has left people across Pakistan in shock.
Earlier this week, videos of multiple unidentified bodies decomposing on the hospital’s rooftop went viral on social media, provoking questions about their identities and the hospital’s mortuary facilities. As outrage mounted, both the Punjab government and the Nishtar Medical University’s vice-chancellor formed separate committees to probe the incident and explain what led to the storage of bodies in the open air on a rooftop.
Punjab Chief Minister Parvez Elahi has sought a report from the healthcare secretary, stressing it was inhumane to dump bodies on a hospital’s roof and that strict disciplinary action should be taken against the people responsible. Meanwhile, the Nishtar Medical University’s vice chancellor has constituted a three-member committee to investigate the matter and submit its own report.
Amidst the mounting apprehension, Nishtar Medical University’s Head of Anatomy Dr. Mariam Ashraf, in an interview with Geo News’ Shahzeb Khanzada, said the hospital had no choice but to store excess bodies on its roof because it could not refuse acceptance of any unidentified bodies found by police. “The police and rescue officials do not take them back on time. We have written documents in which we have asked them to take the bodies. Since there is a lag, such things happen,” she said, adding that these bodies were usually in an advanced state of decay and could not be stored in the mortuary.
To a question, she claimed that the Edhi Foundation had also recently stopped accepting bodies from the hospital because it had run out of space in its graveyard. “The only reason for the bodies being kept on the roof is that their influx is huge and they aren’t being taken back by police in the numbers they should be,” she said.
To another question on the number of bodies on the roof—reports have ranged from a few dozen to over 500—Dr. Ashraf said the exact number had been counted and shared with the relevant authorities. “Let me make it clear, only a few bodies were kept on the roof,” she said. “Some [additional] bodies were kept in a room on the roof,” she added.
To a question on the hospital’s morgue, she claimed the Punjab government had approved resources for a new mortuary and the conditions would improve once it had been built. This, she claimed, would include special facilities for the storage of bodies in advanced state of decay.
According to Dr. Ashraf, videos of mutilated bodies were actually of autopsied bodies that had been used for training of medical students. This, she alleged, had made it appear there were more bodies than were actually present, as several of them had been “medically mutilated.”
Denial of blame
Responding to the hospital official’s claims, both police and the Edhi Foundation denied their role in the storage of bodies on the roof. A spokesperson for the Punjab police said that while all unclaimed bodies were shifted to hospital per law, there was no reason for their storage in the open air barring negligence.
Similarly, Edhi Foundation’s Faisal Edhi said that the hospital often retained some bodies for teaching purposed. However, he clarified, it was police who approached his organization for their burial, and not the hospital. “Police advise us on whether a corpse should be preserved or buried temporarily. We take photographs of abandoned bodies [for the record],” he said, adding the Foundation had contacted the hospital that very day for permission to bury the stored bodies.
Meanwhile, health experts across Pakistan have lamented the storage of bodies in such dire conditions, maintaining that this is not regular practice anywhere in the country. Noting that medical students couldn’t be taught on decayed bodies, they stressed that they needed freshly deceased corpses for their training.