HomeLocal NewsExposed: Funeral homes cheating the dead

Exposed: Funeral homes cheating the dead

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Zimbabweans could for years have been falling prey to unscrupulous funeral service providers offering “fake” embalming services for a fee.

NewsDay investigations have revealed that most funeral service providers do not fully embalm dead bodies.

But they charge at least $50 for what they call “partial embalming” involving injecting the body with a chemical, or sometimes mere water.

According to experts interviewed, there are just a handful of trained morticians and embalmers in Zimbabwe.

Save for State funerals and special cases where a body has to be taken out of the country, no embalming of bodies is taking place at the numerous funeral parlours dotted in Zimbabwe’s cities and towns.

“People are being ripped off by these funeral homes,” said Victor Kunyarimwe, a professional embalmer for 20 years.

“What the bereaved are being told is that there is a service called embalming where a preservative chemical is administered into the dead body through injection.

“But there is nothing like that. Simple science will tell you no circulation of blood or any other fluids takes place in a dead body. So there is nothing less than full embalming that can preserve a dead body.

“The so-called injections will be local administration of chemicals which, according to the proper embalming process, might even accelerate body decomposition.”

“Proper embalming involves the injection of chemicals into the blood vessels, usually via the right common carotid artery.

“Blood and interstitial fluids are displaced by this injection and, along with excess arterial solution, are expelled from the right jugular vein. The embalming solution is injected with a powerful centrifugal pump into the body to get it to circulate – not by a syringe!”

A chief laboratory technologist with the University of Zimbabwe’s Department of Human Anatomy, Nyasha Mabika, said injecting embalming fluid using hypodermic syringes was not effective because there was no way the fluid could move through a body whose tissues are dead.

“Injections can only be used to supplement the embalming process in instances where the pump fails to push the chemical to certain parts of the body.

“But certainly localised and injection-administered embalming is not effective. The process of embalming takes as long as a whole day, so this business of people claiming to ‘embalm while you wait’ is just not possible. There is something wrong there.”

Mabika, who is also a professional embalmer, said he became suspicious of the
goings-on at some funeral homes after some of them had called him asking for embalming fluid ingredients.

“I have wondered how these morgues are practicing when they don’t even know the ingredients of embalming fluid,” Mabika said.

“It raises suspicion that, despite using ineffective injection methods, they could be using any smelling fluid to dupe clients.”

According to experts, five litres of the embalming chemical and another 15 litres of water need to be pumped into the body during embalming. Yet, the “partial embalming”, for which the local morgues charge at least $50, involves only a few millilitres in a syringe.

A visit to several funeral service providers confirmed the unsuspecting grieving public are paying for the “partial embalming” which an employee at one of Zimbabwe’s longest established funeral homes confirmed is not a preservation of the whole body but just localised areas where the chemical lasted “just a few hours”.

What makes the whole deal sound even more fraudulent is that most of these funeral homes make that so-called “embalming” a compulsory component of their service. You have to pay for that along with the rest of the services.

“Yes, the embalming is done by injections which will preserve the body for at least three days,” said another undertaker who preferred to remain anonymous.

“We inject those parts of the body that appear to be getting bad fast. Our services are all inclusive of the embalmment which costs $50. We do not offer our services without the embalming part.”
Expert morticians and embalmers laughed at the suggestion that chemicals injected into dead body tissue could preserve that part of the body for anything more than a few hours.

“It’s all a fraud,” said a mortician at a government institution. “Embalming is not done by injections into body tissue.

“What is required is to have all the blood and other fluids removed from the body to be replaced by embalming chemicals that are pumped into the body through the arteries.”

Moonlight Funeral Services director Charity Mungofa agreed full embalming was only necessary “where bodies are being repatriated and would therefore need several days’ travel before burial”.

She said: “There is no need for a full embalming if the body is being buried in the country and within two days of death, especially where it has been stored in a refrigerator.

“Only partial embalming is necessary and it involves the injection of the fluid into the body.”

She said although she was not too sure how the dead body would circulate the chemical, the injected fluid somehow moved through the body “like oil does when it is spilled on the ground”.

Kunarimwe, however, dismissed Mungofa’s claims on the grounds that there was no way a dead body could circulate fluids administered via injections into the skin or tissues of the body.

“This is all a farce and daylight robbery,”
Kunarimwe said. “These funeral service providers must be investigated. Thousands of people are being ripped off on a daily basis. The problem is that there is no organisation in Zimbabwe that monitors the activities and qualifications of these funeral homes. That is why they are mushrooming everywhere. There is no regulating body to ensure that the public is not cheated.”

The fraud had become so rampant, he said, unscrupulous “embalmers” were now seen peddling “embalming injections“ outside government hospital mortuaries and, out of ignorance, hundreds of grieving people were losing money for nothing.

Body embalment, if done properly, is meant to keep the body preserved for many decades.

An expert said yesterday full embalment in Zimbabwe appeared only a preserve of national heroes whose bodies, he said, given the nature of their graves, could remain as good as fresh a century after burial.

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