Cape Town - The backlog for Muslim autopsies in Cape Town is growing again, making it difficult for mourners to comply with the customary 24-hour funeral procedures required in Islam.
"The backlog for Muslim autopsies have been between two to three days - a marked decrease from 6+ days a few months ago," said Sheikh Riad Fataar, the Muslim Judicial Council's (MJC) second deputy president and chairperson of the Muslim Cemetery Board.
"However, due to an increase in cases over the holiday period, including deaths due to road accidents, the backlog continues to grow," Fataar said on Wednesday.
One of the affected cases was that of the 12-year-old girl, who died after drinking her father's cancer medication.
The girl's family is not yet ready to speak to the media, but it is understood that, although her death was announced on January 1, the family had to wait until January 3 to bury her.
The backlogs have been a concern for the Muslim community.
Last October, there were consultations between the MJC and Western Cape Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo, over mortuaries' inability to complete post-mortems within the pre-agreed customary period.
In November, the department announced that it had reduced the "turnaround time" for the release of Muslim bodies from six days, to three days, and then to 48 hours.
A follow-up meeting with Mbombo is scheduled for the end of January, but the December holiday season has seen the waiting time increase again.
Department of Health spokesperson Marika Champion said on Wednesday that 39 bodies were waiting to be examined with their expected release set for Friday.
At the Salt River mortuary, the time from admission to examination is currently at an average of 3.32 days.
Tygerberg mortuary is experiencing longer delays, with the time from admission to examination at 4.47 days.
Champion said that, as a result of a high case load during the festive season, the release time by Forensic Pathology Services (FPS) could be negatively affected. However, she said the department prioritised those who were Muslim.
She added that service was also dependant on staff, but pointed out that FPS has endeavoured to arrange leave applications over the holiday season in such a way that continuity of service was still assured.
Champion explained that cases were prioritised with the only absolute criterion being that of medico-legal investigation of unnatural deaths.
Case are triaged and the following prioritisation is considered: the needs of National Prosecuting Authority; evidence collection needs; case complexity and the type of case; the admission date, and whether a case has been identified.
She reiterated a call made last year for the quick identification of bodies for all deceased - not only Muslims - as delayed identification leads to delayed release.
"In terms of current cases at our mortuaries, we urge the public to be patient and stay in touch with the two mortuaries."
Their numbers are 021 447 4915 in Salt River and 021 931 9140 in Tygerberg.