Gauteng buys “multi-body-carriers” to prepare for disaster

  • Gauteng Department of Health has purchased 18 vehicles specifically upgraded to carry many diseased people away from disaster areas.
  • These include 11 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans that have upgraded refrigeration technology and onboard handwashing stations.
  • The department is still struggling with a huge backlog in its forensic services, with thousands of cases still open from as far back as 2007.

In preparation for the absolute worst, Gauteng has announced that it has purchased a fleet of vehicles expressly to carry as many human bodies as possible in case disasters like the 2022 Christmas Eve Boksburg explosion ever happen again.

This initiative is being led by the Gauteng Department of Health’s (GDoH) Forensic Pathology Service (FPS) and is in an effort to “improve efficiencies and turnaround times when it comes to the collection of deceased bodies, especially during multiple fatality incidents,” the department says.

The new fleet comprises 11 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans, like in the cover image above, and seven bakkies of non-descript make. The department says that the Sprinters can carry six adults and two infant bodies in a single trip, while the bakkies can carry two bodies at once.

In the case of the Boksburg blast, 41 people lost their lives when a gas tanker caught fire and exploded when it got stuck as it was trying to pass under a bridge.

“During such unfortunate and tragic incidents, our response and carrying out of bodies to mortuaries is delayed due to the many trips that have to be taken by the one and two carrier vehicles. We will now be able to carry multiple deceased bodies at once in the shortest period using the newly acquired fleet,” said Gauteng MEC for Health and Wellness Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko.

Nkomo-Ralehoko calls the acquisition of the 18 vehicles “transformative” for Gauteng’s forensic services and then calls them “state-of-the-art” as they have been upgraded specifically for the task.

According to the MEC, the vans are equipped with the “latest technology to ensure efficient and dignified management of unnatural deaths.” This includes GPS for location tracking, enhanced refrigeration systems to “better preserve evidence”, and even onboard hand-washing stations.

While the bakkies can respond to more remote incidents such as if corpses need to be pulled from mountainous terrain, or areas where bodies cannot be accessed easily by other vehicles, such as the recent Limpopo bus crash where the deceased bodies had to be carried up the bridge.

“We will continue to transform our forensic pathology service, ensuring that we not only meet but exceed the expectations of the communities we serve,” the MEC added. Gauteng has long had a backlog when it comes to forensic investigations, due to the province’s high accident and violent crime rate compared to others.

Last month, the department said it had more than 17 000 toxicology and 7 000 histology cases in a backlog, with some cases going as far back as 2007. That’s 17 years for anyone who is keeping track.

“We are fully aware of the impact the backlogs have on the families of the deceased, who are seeking closure and facing material trauma due to long delays in finalising estates,” said acting CEO of the FPS, Thembalethu Mpahlaza, as per The Citizen.

According to MEC Nkomo-Ralehoko, the acquisition of the new vehicles follows the deployment of the Forensic Pathology Fingerprint System “which has improved the identification of unidentified deceased bodies,” and the opening of a new pathology services institution in Ga-Rankuwa, Tshwane.

[Image – Photo by Fachy Marín on Unsplash]


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