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To all Rotumans who have family back in the island, which in a sense is everybody who has a drop of Rotuman in him/her.

I would like to put forward a topic for discussion: Do we need a morgue at the Rotuma hospital?

Given the isolation of Rotuma , and the infrequency of transportation to the island by sea or air, we often hear of distraught family members who have to go through more heartbreak and anguish because they cannot attend the burial of their loved ones who have passed away in the island.

This experience I know too well for it has happened to our family quite recently. There are few words that can explain the added grief put on the family members who were living in Fiji and couldn't attend the funeral. The option of chartering a plane was out because it was a Sunday. After this sad event, I started to think of why we don't have a morgue in our hospital.

There are of course issues to consider, such as ;

1. Funds: Would the government provide funds to install such a facility in our hospital ?
2. Culture: Would the prolonged keeping of the deceased infringe on our customs? I don't think it does.
3. Costs: Can our people afford such a facility or would it be only used by those fortunate enough to afford it.

I believe there are many other arguments for and against the idea of having a morgue in Rotuma hospital but from the point of view of someone living in Australia, I, for one, cannot see why we shouldn't have such a facility in Rotuma. It is impossible to get to the island within 24 hours of the death of any of my family members, should such a tragic event occur.

Anyway, I put forward this discussion to any of you who might find it a worthwhile topic to discuss.

Tevita Katafono
A mortuary in Rotuma would be an expensive 'convenience' and is not a cost-effective priority for the Hospital in Rotuma.

Here are the reasons:

1. In terms of Fiji Government's hospital development, it is probably a very low priority.

2. It is not cost effective for the following reasons:

a) high maintenance costs -- the fuel budget to run a generator for the mortuary will far exceed the budgets of the hospital and District Office.

b) low death rate -- the lowest death rate occurred in at 1998 (1.6/1000) and lower values are expected. There would not be enough deaths to justify the mortuary running for 24 hours a day. Secondly, not all families will want the deceased to rest in the mortuary. At most times, the mortuary will be left unoccupied, wasting time and resources, which is needed elsewhere.

c) cost to the family -- in Rotuma, funerals are probably one of the most expensive gatherings. The longer the body remains unburied, the higher the costs for the family hosting the funeral. And, of course, money will be sent from other parts of Fiji and abroad, yet livestock and food from the farm is greatly depleted. Since funerals are not planned, the hosting family really bears the economic burden of the funeral.

3. Perhaps, instead of a mortuary, it would be better to acquire a life saving machine like a defibrillator, ventilator, etc. These machines will improve resuscitation and should raise life expectancy (As a result certain funerals become more predictable and gives time for preparation).

Eric Rafai (M.D.)
It has been a long while since I last visited the net. and I am very pleased to find a response to my question put forward for discussion a while back. I am even more pleased that the response came from Dr Eric Rafai because he is amongst the few people who would have a qualified opinion, given his experience serving in the island's hospital.

If there is lesson I learnt out of this, it would be the fact that matters regarding our people on the island are best solved by those on Rotuma, or by those who have frequent personal involvement with affairs there, not by expatriates like myself. It is so easy for us Rotumans overseas to get carried away with our ideals and aspirations and to try and impose them on our people on the island. Yet having lived there for no more than a month or so, on a typical Christmas holiday when everything seemed to be okay, hardly qualifies us to make effective and practical proposals as to what's best for island. In short, I have lost touch with life on the island; maybe I should be more of a keen observer than an ill-informed idealist.

Tevita Katafono

From the short, almost five years that I spent in Rotuma, I saw how the hospital was run in Rotuma.  It was astounding.  They really handled the job beyond expectations.  Nonetheless, the fuel that runs their generator has to be paid by someone.  And it is.  There are so many things to consider. 
We are living abroad (U.S.) and because we know that a trip home would entail such extensive hours of traveling, we know fully well that in the event that someone in the family should pass away, there is no way that we could get home within a reasonable amount of time to be buried.  But then, we knew that when we first came to this distant location. 
The expense to run a morgue, even if it was financed by someone, would be questionable.  Things to consider include the unforseeable weather conditions which have many a time caused flights to be cancelled and necessitate taking later flights.  Just how long would morgue services be extended? 
It was a very interesting suggestiong about channeling the money into such things as life-saving equipment as a defibrillator or ventillator.  The other issue would be to make sure that those who are quite ill seek medical attention in an expeditious manner, as not to run a high risk.  That is a problem I saw much of in my five years there.  Of course, death will not be "discontinued", but honestly, with the medical care available in Rotuma, much (not all) death can be avoided at the time it occurs.
Pam Nataniela
North Dakota, USA

For all the years I grew up on that beautiful island, I never imagined that one day, there is going to be any discussion about having a mortuary in Rotuma. I suppose I have been away far too long.

I go on the web site everyday to keep up with what goes on, on the island and I am so amazed at the changes and how far we Rotumans have come along, in this world of technology and the twenty first century.

I am a little saddened at what changes and ideas that people want to bring back to the island from their travels and residencies from overseas and thinking that they would be very ideal for life in Rotuma.

I think that M.D Eric Rafai had put the idea of having a mortuary in Rotuma in its proper perspective. My thoughts: The island does not need a mortuary. Never did and never have any need for it. Rotumans who live overseas always want to bring changes to that beautiful place I always call home. They don't have any understanding on how precious our island has always been. You have to grow up on the island or spend a lot of time there to really understand life on the island.
Rotuma seems to have moved on to the year 2003 without having a mortuary. If you are living outside the island and want to help or bring changes to the island, please think first, and put your money to good use, like, buying equipment for the hospital or schools.

The death rate in Rotuma has always been low. We should all thank God for that, because Rotumans are the luckiest people on this earth. Our culture and heritage is put at risk for bringing in changes like a mortuary which is not a necessity. A morgue works for other countries but not to a small island like ours or do we want to live life on our paradise island like the outside world who are struggling with debt, poverty, hunger and other worse problems. We should stick to tradition. One or two deaths in the mortuary that has to be run 24 hours a day, seven days a week and think of fuel costs and people to run the place who has to be paid. It might create jobs but it would be too costly for the people on the island. I suppose pretty soon you are going to want people to pay higher taxes, if they don't already have. For a self-sufficient island when I was growing up, it is very sad to think that the survival of the island is very dependent on the outside world.

H.S. (Fakraufon) Thompson

Life has its ups and downs but those downs are only bad moments for a little while. Life also is full of surprises, but overall has been good to me.

As a Christian I believe in life after death and have a blessed hope for a better life to come. Though death is a reality of life, everyone wishes that it'll never happen to them or their love ones, knowing full well that it will confront us all. There is no escape from death’s jaws and though I know it will come, its very hard to accept.

With the harrowing experiences I have had in the last twelve years, losing fourteen members of my immediate and close family from my mum and dad to uncles and first cousins, I know the sorrow and pain caused by death. Also in my second job, I saw a lot of deaths and being empathetic, I can understand the grieving people go through from my own experiences. My heart bled for the affected families. I also grieve when I read about the death of a fellow Rotuman, especially if it is someone that I knew very well.

Death is hell and there is no escape. It's very emotional and sad and numbs one’s senses. We are struck with a feeling of loss and wonder why it has to be us. Fortunate for me is my upbringing and the influence of my mum and my Christian beliefs. These help me understand death and allow me to move on. For it is essential to comprehend that there is a time for everything--a time to live and a time to die.

So given the above topic, first raised by Tevita and followed by other commentaries, I believe there are both pros and cons to having a morgue on Rotuma.

The merits are three fold:

1. A  morgue will preserve the body until all the grieving family members resident overseas (whether in Fiji or elsewhere) can arrive. I was well aware of the convenience and the benefit of a morgue when we used it in Suva for both mum and dad before flying their bodies back to Rotuma for burial.

2. It will allow the grieving family time to comfort and support each other and to say their farewells.

3. The plans and intentions of the affected family could be organised and rolled out with precision without the sense of urgency we currently have to comply with health regulations. 

The cons are:

1. The cost of building and running the morgue will be enormous, when there are more urgent and pressing priorities and needs for the hospital.

2. There will be personal costs to the grieving family. For each passing day that the body will be kept in the morgue, incidental costs will be incurred and will continue to rise. There will also be a toll of weariness and intangible costs to the family.

3. The stupefying effect of superstition and fear of the deceased’s ghost amongst some of the islanders can be taxing, to say the least.

4. The perceived introduction of foreign funeral traditions may contribute to the erosion of Rotuman customs and traditions.

Thus the question, Should Rotuma Hospital Have a Morgue? Well, traditionally, Rotumans have continued to bury their loved ones within the day of death without the need for a morgue. Though it would be nice if Rotuma could afford one, given the hospital’s needs it borders on luxury.

Henry Enasio

With response to the issue on whether or not Rotuma should have a Morgue??

I can understand where Tevita is coming from and of course it would be nice to have a morgue on the island for all family members to say their last farewell to their loved ones. Focus on what Eric mentioned -- it’s not cost effective due to high maintenance, a low death rate, it’s too expensive for the host family, and it's also a low priority for the government to fund one. He was quite articulate on what is needed at the hospital based on his previous experience. Henry mentioned the pros and cons about having a morgue and Pam spoke on the expected and unexpected things that could happen to the sick. H.S. Thompson has given an overall view on what he/she thinks about this issue.

This issue has inspired me to write because at one stage I requested the embassy that I used to work for to provide the Rotuma hospital with a morgue and other health equipment. This was during Eric's term at Ahau. The embassy was willing to fund whatever I requested except for a morgue. Our ambassador said to me that day, "They are only concerned about the living and not the dead." If we think properly we should be more concerned about our lovely people still living and educate them on health issues to improve their health standards. As Thompson said, we Rotumans are the luckiest humans on earth; we have a very low death rate and are far away from the bad diseases that are going around in this modern age. We Rotumans were brought up as Christians and we should have a clear understanding about the dead and the living. We should be able to differentiate our needs and wants and be able to prioritise what is required at Ahau hospital. Priority should be given to life saving equipment that can prolong the life of our sick people and to improving the standard of care at Ahau hospital so that our people living on the island will benefit.

To conclude, I would say that there is no need for Rotuma to have a morgue for the following reasons:

  1. High maintenance costs
  2. Excessive expensives for host family
  3. Low death rate
  4. Weather conditions that might delay family members travelling from abroad due to cancellation of flights, etc.
  5. Without government funding it will be an extra burden for our relatives living on the island to cover the expenses
  6. Irregular shipping that can result in a lack of fuel to run the generators.
  7. The cost of employing someone to look after the morgue. We would be far better off employing a dentist or an eye doctor on the island.

Having given my reasons I would like to leave the final say to our lovely people who live on and look after the affairs of our beautiful island Rotuma. God bless you all.

K. R. Roy
New Zealand

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