- Twenty bodies can be preserved in five freezers at DMCH morgue
- Two of the freezers have been out of order for a year
- Four bodies of foreign nationals are being stored in another freezer
United States national Robert Myron Barker died of a stroke on 25 May 2018. His autopsy was done the following day at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH). His body has since remained in the morgue.
Police have not been able to hand over his body to his family even two and a half years later. A general diary was filed with Dakshinkhan Police Station after his death.
The officer-in-charge of the police station, Shikder Md Shamim Hossain, told The Business Standard that the then officer-in-charge had talked to Barker's three sons in the US.
"Barker's sons said they would come to Bangladesh and receive their father's body. However, they did not come here in the end," he explained.
Barker's Bangladeshi wife Mazeda Begum contacted the US Embassy in Dhaka several times to arrange a funeral but did not receive a decision. She said she is thinking about taking legal steps in this regard.
There are similar complexities over three more bodies kept at the DMCH morgue for a long time. One of those is of Khokon, alias Khokon Nandi, Khokon Chowdhury, Khoka Chowdhury, and Razib Chowdhury.
His body has been in the morgue for over six years. Complexities arose when his two wives of different religions claimed the body. A case was filed to determine which faith he belonged to, and it is still at trial. Once the verdict is pronounced, the body will be handed over to one of his wives.
Khokon's first wife is Mira Nandi and he has a son, Bablu Nandi, with her. He converted to Islam in 1980 and married Khokon Habiba Akhter Khanam.
In another instance, Hasanuzzaman Ripon of Debipur village in Cumilla's Chauddagram went to South Africa in search of work and married a local girl there. The couple came to Bangladesh in December 2015, but Ripon's parents did not accept the bride.
The girl killed herself by drinking poison on 24 February, 2016. Her body has remained at the morgue since then.
The body of Indian national Manikanda has been stored at the morgue since 29 July last year. He had died in jail.
Two of five freezers out of order
Twenty bodies can be preserved in five freezers at the DMCH morgue. However, two of the freezers have been out of order for a year and four bodies of foreign nationals are being stored in another freezer.
This means only two freezers are available to preserve bodies at the largest forensic morgue in the country. To make matters worse, one of them malfunctions sometimes.
That is why doctors mostly rely on just one freezer. They said this had led to problems in preserving bodies.
Morgue officials said dead bodies sometimes have to be left on the floor or stretchers due to freezer shortages, causing them to decay. The stench of rotten bodies creates an unpleasant atmosphere in the morgue.
Dr Sohel Mahmud, head of the forensic medicine department at DMCH, said about eight bodies are brought to the morgue for a post-mortem on average every day.
"Bodies sometimes have to be kept outside because of freezer shortages. This causes the corpses to decay and symptoms thus get destroyed. As a result, it becomes difficult to determine the real cause of death," he explained.
Further, four air-conditioners in the morgue have been non-functional for almost five years. Officials have written to the authorities concerned several times to inform them of the problem. However, the problem has not been solved yet.
DMCH Principal Dr Khan Abul Kalam Azad told The Business Standard they contacted the National Electro-Medical Equipment Maintenance Workshop and Training Centre in case of problems with the freezers.
"They [the centre] send repairmen to fix freezers. We have written to them again. Hopefully, the problem will be solved soon," he said.
Dr Azad said they have requested the health ministry to buy new freezers, and they will be purchased once allocations are made.
"We do not get allocations immediately after we have asked for them," he added.