Varsity where cadavers face worse fate than death

By Gatonye Gathura

Majority of medical students at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, can never donate their remains for training – ‘over our dead bodies’ they say.

However due to a shortage of cadavers, as medical training schools and enrolment increase, they are asking the public to kindly donate their bodies to help create more and better doctors.

Culture and religion are the main reasons for their reluctance to donate but are even more put off by the way the dead bodies are treated by colleagues on the teaching table.

In a recent survey at the medical school of the University of Nairobi, most trainees said they felt the amount of mutilation done while dissecting dead bodies was just too much.

The trainees decried the handling of cadavers especially by fellow students, terming it as undignified, uncomfortable, brutal, and sad.

The survey published in the current journal of Anatomy Research International involving 72 first-year medical students and 41 surgical residents at the university, found majority much opposed to donating own remains for training.

The research team however, said this was not surprising as it is a widespread phenomenon across the world.

For example, in one study, only 13.5 per cent of first-year medical students in France and six per cent and two per cent of medical students and doctors, respectively, in India were willing to donate their bodies for dissection.

Surprisingly, the Nairobi study says even anatomists themselves are not willing to donate their bodies. In different studies in India and Turkey only less than a quarter were willing to donate their bodies.

Philip Maseghe Mwachaka, the lead researcher says the number of medical schools in Kenya has grown from one in 1967 to nine in 2015, with each school having massive expansion in student enrollment.

All these schools compete for the same pool of unclaimed bodies resulting in shortage of cadavers for dissection.

“For instance, despite increased medical student enrollment at the University of Nairobi to over 400 students per year, the supply of cadavers has stagnated at 50 per year.”

To address the shortage the UoN runs a human body donation programme which the researchers say has been a big let down. For instance, only two bodies were donated in 2015.

To change the trend and attract more cadavers, the researchers suggest the university reach out first to its trainees on the need to dignify the dead and the public to donate their bodies.

“Cadavers should be handled with respect and honor throughout the dissection period. Respectable gestures such as referring to the cadaver as the “silent teacher” rather than just a dead body has been shown to have a positive influence on the attitudes of medical students towards the cadaver,” suggest the study.

In some other countries running donation programmes they hold a dedication service before start of the exercise and a thanksgiving or memorial service at the end of the dissection class.

“During the services, the cadavers are dedicated to the training of the students, and the students are taught to value and respect the dead.”

Finally at the end of each dissection year, the researchers explain, the general public, students, and staff come together to bid farewell to the donors in a decent burial ceremony.

“This helps reassure apprehensive prospective donors that their remains will be treated with dignity.”

Rocket Science

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