Undertakers not worried about HIV

Funeral undertakers are not concerned about contracting HIV from corpses, they said on Tuesday.

“It’s a load of hogwash. If they take the right precautions, the chance [of contracting HIV] is a big, round nought,” said Geoffrey Gilfillan, an operations manager for Doves undertakers.

The funeral undertakers were reacting to the United Funeral Association of SA (Ufasa) saying it would call for the HIV status of the dead to be recorded on death certificates.

Ufasa’s founder member Johan Rousseau said on Monday not only were the 30 000 industry workers placed at risk when they handled bodies infected with HIV, but workers in related industries were also at risk.

“Every dead person is touched by at least two mortuary workers, two family members, policemen and hospital workers,” he said, explaining that these people were exposed to fluid seepage from the bodies.

The matter would be discussed at a conference in Johannesburg next month.

Funeral undertakers in the Johannesburg area contacted by the South African Press Association on Tuesday disagreed with Ufasa, saying if the right precautions were taken, there was no risk.

“If undertakers put their gloves on when handling bodies and wash their hands afterwards, there is no way they will contract HIV,” said Naomi Booysen of Avbob in Alberton.

“You must not drink or eat while handling the bodies, and you get coats you can wear if blood splatters.”

Caps Poonee, owner of Poonee A Funeral Parlour in Lenasia said he had never heard of an individual contracting HIV in this manner.

“We use gloves… and strong chemicals. According to experience I don’t agree there is a risk.”

The owner of Enigma Funeral Directors, Helen Janse van Rensburg, which is based in Newlands, agreed with her peers.

“They are quite right,” she said.

“There are many other sicknesses they should be more worried about.”

Dr Ian Sanne, the clinical director of the Wits Health Consortium, said undertakers who did not take universal precautions were negligent.

These included wearing gloves, goggles and gowns.
He said it was theoretically possible to contract HIV from a body, such as through a forensic or academic post mortem, but medical staff took the necessary precautions, which included selecting the type of blades used.

A spokesperson for the HIV/Aids lobby group Treatment Action Campaign, Nathan Geffen, said he had never heard of a person contracting HIV in this manner.

He also agreed that if undertakers took the correct precautions, there would be no risk. - Sapa

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