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Murder Victims Pile Up in Zimbabwe's Mortuaries

  • Peta Thornycroft

Close to 30 bodies of murder victims in Zimbabwe are piling up in state mortuaries because the last forensic pathologist has left the country. Government health officials say some of the corpses have been there for a year, and there is no solution in sight.

Dr. Max Hove, Zimbabwe's top clinical pathologist said Tuesday there were no forensic pathologists in the country. He said Zimbabwe had relied on expatriates for about 20 years but the handful of foreign trained Zimbabwean forensic pathologists left the country after independence in 1980.

Zimbabwe's only medical school does not offer forensic pathology as part of its curriculum.

Forensic pathologists gather criminal evidence during autopsies and testify in court. Without them, murder cases in Zimbabwe's courts could be stalled indefinitely. The last expatriate forensic pathologist in government service, a Tanzanian, left last May. Dr. Hove said although he was a specialist, the expatriate was given a hard time by defense lawyers in a high-profile political murder trial last year.

He said government doctors are willing to examine the corpses of those who suffered sudden death, such as in a drowning or car accident. But, they have refused to handle all murder victims because they say they are not sufficiently qualified to take part in trials which may lead to the accused being found guilty and sentenced to death.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said top policemen and officials from the Ministry of Health were aware of the problem and were working on a solution.

He said some of the accused in these murder cases were in detention awaiting trial while others were free on bail.

The number of corpses of murder victims stored in state mortuaries is expected to grow. Families of victims are unable to bury their murdered relatives until police investigations are complete.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's public health care system, once among the best in Africa, has deteriorated dramatically over the last five years, according to statistics released by the government.

Many top medical personnel have left Zimbabwe for financial reasons. Western donors currently provide most essential drugs for government hospitals and support for some of those afflicted with HIV-AIDS and children orphaned in the pandemic.

Medical personnel in non-governmental organizations estimate the death toll from HIV-AIDS, affected by rising levels of prolonged hunger, is now about 4,000 a week.