Kozhikode: Going beyond the call of duty, a doctor here performed the role of a pallbearer to conduct the last rites of some of those who lost their lives to the deadly Nipah virus.
With close relatives staying away due to fear of contracting Nipah, Dr RS Gopakumar, Health Officer of Kozhikode corporation, took the responsibility of handling 12 bodies, whose final journey was supervised by him. "I was a pallbearer for 3 bodies and performed their last rites too," the 41-year-old Gopakumar told PTI.
Nipah virus has claimed 17 lives — 14 in Kozhikode and 3 in neighbouring Malappuram since its outbreak last month.
On Tuesday, the state government had updated the toll to 17 after including the death of Mohammed Sabith, the first victim, whose samples had not been tested for Nipah.
Gopakumar said he performed the last rites of a 17-year-old boy who died of Nipah as his mother was in the isolation ward for suspected virus infection.
She could not even see her son for one last time and permitted Dr Gopakumar to perform the exequies. "I was saddened that during his last journey there were none of his dear ones to perform last rites. I did not have to think twice... and I decided to perform all Hindu rites for the boy as I wanted him to go on his final journey with all the dignity. It was my duty...," he said.
After relatives of a 53-year-old man, who died of Nipah, informed him that they were not participating in the funeral, he conducted the final rites for him too.
Another last journey which tugged his heart was when he assisted the husband of a 19-year-old woman.
The woman, who had allegedly consumed poison, had been brought to a hospital here from Karnataka when some persons who were later found to be positive for Nipah, were treated near her bed. However, the woman's samples were found to be negative later.
Extreme care and standing operating procedures laid down by the experts of National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) were followed for handling Nipah affected bodies during the cremation and burial as exposure to Nipah virus (NiV) is highly hazardous.
Secretion and excretion from a deceased person are considered equally infectious like that of a living infected person.
As part of the standard procedures, the bodies should not be sprayed, washed or embalmed and personnel handling remains have to wear protective equipment like gloves, gowns, N95 masks, eye protection shield and shoe cover.
Gopakumar said he had overseen the funeral of 61-year-old Moosa, whose two sons and brother's wife had fallen prey to Nipah virus.
It is suspected that during the ritual of bathing of Sabith's body, Moosa and his younger son might have contracted the virus, he said.
A 10-feet pit was dug and 5 kg of bleaching powder was spread inside the pit. The body was packed in an air-tight plastic double body bag and then lowered into the pit.
Dr Reshma Sahay, Scientist from the National Virology Institute, Pune was present as she had handled Ebola cases earlier. "We followed Ebola protocol for the burial," Dr Gopakumar said.
Of the 12 bodies, 8 were Nipah positive cases and four were suspected cases which later turned out to be negative. Patients' relatives performed rites for nine of the bodies.
There were situations when the staff in Kozhikode crematorium refused to perform the last rites of some Nipah victims due to fear. The natural host of the virus is believed to be fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family, Pteropus genus.
The body was in the ambulance for few hours after which people from Ivor madom, who conduct funeral rites on the banks of Bharatha puzha, had to be called to do the final rites, he said.
The issue was discussed by the Kerala Assembly yesterday and Health minister, KK Shylaja was all praise for the selfless service of Dr Gopakumar.