Scarcity of cadavers a major hurdle for Saudi medical students

All human bodies provided to medical colleges in Saudi Arabia were imported, mainly from China

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Obtaining cadavers for anatomy purposes is a dilemma for many medical students in Saudi Arabia’s universities due to the difficulty in acquiring these, amid the scarcity of exporting countries.

“China is the primary source for human cadavers for educational purposes,” said Dr Talal Ikram, the former Director of Forensic Medicine of the Ministry of Health in Jeddah, and the Director of Operations in Jeddah New National Hospital.

Dr. Ikram explained that all human bodies provided to medical colleges in the Kingdom were imported.

In an interview published on Saturday in Al Wattan newspaper, he said that medical schools were facing supply shortage as a consequence of the limited sources of the human corpses, in addition to the lack of specialized organizations.

Ikram explained the process of disposing of human corpses and body parts following the completion of anatomy courses, saying they were buried in non-Muslim cemeteries.

However, besides the scarcity of the corpses, medical schools encounter another dilemma such as receiving useless decomposed bodies as result of mishandling and being inappropriately preserved during transportation from the country of origin, according to an official, who refused to be identified.

The source stated that the corpses are mainly of prisoners who have been executed or prisoners who passed away in jail, in addition to unidentified victims of murder.

He added that every medical school required around 20 human corpses, and pointed out that obtaining them for anatomy and scientific studies was regulated by specialized organizations, according to ethical set of rules, resulting in economy of costs.

The mechanism of dealing with human corpses are regulated by ethical agreements where the medical institutes undertake to preserve the dignity of the human body and parts and to be properly buried after anatomy sessions.

A duly completed report is sent to the supplier of cadavers, according to the source.

Another source said that Faculty of Medicine at King Abdulaziz University bans students from filming or taking photos of the corpses in order to respect human dignity.

Dr. Abdel Moneim Hayani, the former head of the Department of Anatomy at King Abdul Aziz University, explained that the majority of medical schools around the world import human corpses due to a large number of medical schools and a limited number of donors and donor organizations.

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