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'Exhume our son’s body for decent burial,' family of Siaya Covid-19 victim asks State

By Japheth Ogila | Apr 13th 2020 | 3 min read

Villagers in Ukwala, Siaya County, were woken up in the middle of the night with sounds of hoes pounding the ground in the presence of armed policemen and county health officers.

In a body bag was their son, 59-year old James Onyango (pictured), a father and a husband who had died of Covid-19 after travelling from Mombasa to his rural home.

The family members, some of whom are now quarantined, had just been informed that James had died of Covid-19.

It was a burial like no other in Luo land. There were no dirges. No disco matanga. No budholiel. No animal slaughtered.

It was a major deviation from tradition as a man whose funeral would have been felt far and wide was buried before you could say “yawa!”

For a community that respects its dead and strives accord them the best burial rights possible, a midnight burial is an abomination.

The family has condemned how their kin was buried with no dignity. Onyango’s younger brother Zack Onyango, who is quarantined in Siaya, has decried what he calls the “disregard for family rights” saying that his brother was “buried like a dog”.

 “We didn’t have any intention of burying our brother at night. We wanted to give him a decent burial during the day,” he told Standard Digital on phone.

Zack said that the rushed burial at night contravenes Luo culture and could even psychologically affects the deceased family.

“Luo culture does not allow someone to be buried at night like a dog the way they did to my brother. This thing will affect the kids,” he lamented.

Zack said that they are now requesting the government allow them to accord his brother a decent burial as required by the culture.

“We want the body to be removed from the grave then taken to the mortuary then we can set a day and bury him in a coffin,” he said.

Currently, over 16 close family members are quarantined as they await to be tested for Covid-19. However, two widows have had their samples taken to KEMRI laboratory in Kisumu for testing and are yet to get the results.

Doubts on tests

The family has raised questions about how the government tested their kin and declared him a Covid-19 victim, given that it takes days for the results to be out.

For example, in the case of Onyango who died on Friday, April 10, at 7 pm; his samples were taken and it took only a few hours for the results to be out.

Zack told Standard Digital that when he arrived at Matibabu Medical Centre at 8 pm on Saturday, his brother’s remains had been put into a body bag, an indication that the hospital had made the diagnosis.

He said that his brother had not complained of Covid-19 related symptoms such as cough, fever and difficulties in breathing.

He said: “He was only complaining of chest pains which I think was linked to the minor injuries he sustained after an accident at Awasi on Monday when he was coming home from Mombasa.”


On March 24, 2020, The World Health Organization, published a guide for handling and safely disposing bodies of Covid-19 victims.

The article titled Infection Prevention and Control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19 gives various precautionary measures on how to handle such bodies in the mortuary, their transportation to burial sites, safe grieving behaviour and subsequent disposal of the bodies.

But of great concern is the fact that the way Siaya County health officers and the police disposed of the body contravenes the WHO guidelines.

For instance, there is a viral video depicting two people dressed in protective gear dumping the body of the deceased in a shallow grave, by estimation less than two metres deep.

 This, is even though according to WHO guidelines, bodies of victims of infectious diseases like Covid-19 must be buried at least two metres deep.

When asked by the Standard why the body of Mr Onyango was hurriedly disposed of, a senior county health official argued that the decision was to shield the village and the close family members from the danger of contracting Covid-19.

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