This Pune medical officer stays by the deceased in their final journey
Pune has 33 crematoriums. Of these, 17 fall in the areas which are designated hot spots of the disease.Updated: Apr 28, 2020 04:48 IST
What is it like to oversee and ensure the burial and cremation of those dead from Covid-19? Pune Municipal Corporation’s (PMC) Assistant medical officer, Dr. Kalpana Baliwant, knows. It is what she has been doing in these unprecedented times in a city besieged by the pandemic.
As of April 24, 68 patients have died of Covid-19 in Pune district.
“It was very difficult for me in the initial stages when the relatives would not come forward to take charge of the dead body. Even the civic staff was fearful and had refused to perform the final rites,” she said. “In the case of Muslim families, there were challenges with regards to the burial of the dead patients as the families were either unwilling to come forward or were themselves under quarantine.”
An MD by qualification, Dr Baliwant earned her MBBS degree from Mumbai and her post-graduate degree from Pune’s BJ Medical College. She has been working with the PMC for the past 27 years and heads the Births and Deaths registration department.
In the case of Muslim patients, the PMC successfully tied up with two Muslim organisations, whose volunteers came forward and helped the municipal corporation in performing the final rites.
Used to regular office hours in the municipal corporation, once the Covid-19 deaths started, Baliwant was on duty round the clock.
After office hours, her bedroom became her control room. “I had to personally coordinate with the ambulance, the staff at the crematorium, and the doctors and ensure that the burial or cremation happened properly. Even the civic staff at the crematorium was reluctant to handle the dead bodies, but eventually they overcame their fears,” said Dr Baliwant.
Pune has 33 crematoriums. Of these, 17 fall in the areas which are designated hot spots of the disease. It was therefore decided to do the final rites in the periphery areas and six crematoriums were identified for this.
The crematoriums were linked to specific hospitals for better coordination. However, in some cases, relatives had their own preferences and the civic staff had to deal with them firmly, if necessary.
“We increased the staff at the crematoriums, which helped us to streamline the process and ensure that the protocol was followed,” she said.
As the head of the Births and Deaths registration department in the civic body, Dr. Baliwant has also been responsible for supervising the final rites of orphans and those of unclaimed or unidentified dead bodies. To assist citizens who needed the death certificate urgently, she introduced an online facility so that visits to the PMC were not required and the certificates could be emailed.
Dr. Baliwant’s husband is also a doctor and is employed with the Pune Cantonment Board where he has been treating Covid -19 positive cases. “In fact, he has direct contact with positive patients and has to take far greater precaution than me,” she said.
While their elder son is in the US, the younger one is at home and both Dr Baliwant and her husband are deeply concerned about his safety.
“We take adequate precautions while on duty by wearing masks, hand gloves and using sanitiser. Since my husband is treating Covid-19 patients, he is required to use personal protective equipment (PPE),” she said.
Positive and optimistic about the future, she said, “It’s a challenging situation for all of us and we will definitely overcome it.”