People could have been exposed to infections
FOR 15 hours patients and children at Brits District Hospital walked past the bloodied corpse of an unknown man in the casualty ward and possibly exposed themselves to infections.
The man was shot on the evening of Sunday October 7 and is believed to have died at about 10pm. His body was only removed the next day at 1pm by government mortuary workers.
When Sowetan arrived at the hospital the humid casualty ward was crammed with patients, some sleeping on chairs. Babies and young children played near the bed where the man's body was covered with a sheet.
A curtain had been used to cordon off the bed, but the floor was marked with blood splatters that seemed to have come from the man's wounds.
A nurse, who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation, said the man's life could have been saved had the hospital had a surgical theatre.
"We just stabilised him when he arrived here. There was nothing more we could do," said the nurse, who also revealed that the man had been shot in the stomach and that the bullet had exited through his back.
Brits Hospital does not have its own mortuary and relies on another government morgue about 10km away.
Pretoria microbiologist Dr Frik Botha said ideally the body was supposed to have been removed immediately from the ward to prevent the possible spread of infections.
"Infections can be spread around the proximity of a corpse if someone gets in contact with the blood or bodily fluids of the deceased," he said.
He said, depending on the room temperature, the tissue of a corpse deteriorates quicker in a warm atmosphere.
Dr Mandla Mazizi, former head of the forensic department of the Gauteng health department, said it was the responsibility of hospital staff to wrap up the body and place it in a secure place away from other patients while waiting for a mortuary vehicle.
"Infections could spread if infection-control protocols aren't followed. In criminal cases nurses should report the death to the police, who will then send a mortuary van to collect the body. A medical report is done before the body is removed," Mazizi said.
Independent forensic and ballistic expert Kobus Steyl said though no evidence would be lost, the corpse should have been preserved in a secured place.
This article was first published in the printed newspaper on 22 October 2012