Medical schools short of dead bodies
Publish Date: Jun 26, 2014
Medical schools short of dead bodies
Makerere Medical School at Mulago Hospital in Kampala. Photo by Peter Busomoke
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By Francis Kagolo

KAMPALA - Students of medicine in Ugandan universities are likely to miss practical anatomy lessons unless the shortage of bodies is addressed.

Dead bodies, known as cadavers in medical literature, are used by students to study the anatomy of a human body.

Gulu University vice-chancellor Prof. Nyeko Pen-Mogi said the cadavers are treated and kept for purposes of training of first-year and second-year students of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, Dentistry and Nursing in anatomy.

According to Nyeko and veteran medical trainer Prof. Francis Omaswa, a body should ideally be shared by four students but medical schools are currently struggling to find cadavers.

With 80 students, Gulu University needs between 16 and 20 dead bodies a year, according to Nyeko, but he says they can take a year with only one corpse.

“Our stocks are very low. We have only one received last November,” Nyeko told New Vision.

“Developed countries are now using ICT-based facilities like videos for practical training, which we don’t have here. Even then, studying on real dead bodies remains the best,” he added.

Dr. Joseph Ochieng, the head of the anatomy department at Makerere University College of Health Sciences, said: “The situation is the same everywhere in Uganda.”

Dealing with trauma

Although Ochieng could not provide the statistics, a source at the college said: “We receive about 12 cadavers a year, which have to be shared among over 300 first and second-year students. This is inadequate.”

In order to avoid trauma related to dealing with bodies of relatives, the college has been exchanging cadavers with another African university, according to the source.

“The exchange programme is good because only then can you be assured that a student will not be presented with a body of a person they knew,” the source explained.

The situation is not any better at Mbarara University of Science and Technology, where over 200 students undergo training in anatomy every year. A student of medicine and his colleague of surgery who completed their courses last month, said they had 12 cadavers instead of 50.

“Because of the shortage, some students could not get a chance to cut through a body. One student would cut and show the rest how the anatomy runs. Although it was a bit inconveniencing, focused students learnt,” she said.

Veteran medical trainer Prof. Francis Omaswa says a body should ideally be shared by four students

Mbarara University vice-chancellor Prof. Frederick Kayanja declined to comment on the issue, saying the media were ‘out of order’ inquiring about cadavers.

However, other experts told New Vision that the problem stems from the fact that most Ugandans are unwilling to donate bodies to medical schools. It is worsened by the declining number of unclaimed bodies in hospital mortuaries.

“In the past there were many immigrant workers unable to repatriate their dead relatives back to their countries. It was an opportunity to use the unclaimed bodies for training purposes. Not so many dead are unclaimed nowadays,” Omaswa said.

Ochieng and Dr. Lynnette Tumwine, a lecturer of pathology at Makerere, also blamed people who still insist on burying their relatives.

“People should learn that bodies are useful material; burying them is being backward,” Tumwine explained.

“When you bury the body, it will rot but if you give it to a university, you will be contributing to training other people who will be useful to the next generation,” she added.

Globally, body donation is practised to advance science. Medical schools cover the cost of cremation or burial once the cadaver has served its medical purpose, which can take a period of about 10 years.

According to Tumwine, medical ethics require anyone wishing to donate their body to sign consent forms with a university of their choice before death. Relatives may also decide to donate a body of their loved ones.

Most Ugandans that New Vision spoke to expressed unease at the idea of donating their bodies.

“Our culture demands that relatives are buried in a family graveyard which has to be kept intact. How can I accept that (to donate)? Those are things of the whites,” said Amos Kalyesubula, a resident of Kiteme in Luweero district.

Ochieng called for a review of such burial rites urged Government to sensitise the public.

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