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Shortage of cadavers affecting Anatomy study in Nigerian medical schools – Prof Ajao

A Professor of Anatomy at the University of Ilorin, Moyosore Salihu Ajao, has decried the scarcity of cadavers (human dead bodies) for the study of anatomy and practical classes in medical institutions in Nigeria.

Professor Ajao made this known while speaking at the 214th Inaugural Lecture of the university, expressing that the shortage affects the students.

Emphasising that the challenge is more difficult because dead bodies are not sold in the market in any part of the world, Ajao explained that the study of human anatomy cannot be fully understood from written descriptions of dimensional pictures or plastic models.

Prof. Ajao citing one of his investigations, explained that there are different causes of scarcity in the Nigerian Medical Institutions which reflects a poor ratio of students to cadavers during the studies in medical schools in Nigeria.

Despite the lack of materials for the study of medicine, Professor Ajao said there is increasing pressure to produce more doctors in Nigeria.

“The first major challenge I noticed on my assumption of office as a young lecturer in the department of anatomy was the chronic shortages of cadavers in the department and after a quick check on other universities, I discovered that we are not alone in the struggle to get bodies fit enough for dissection at practicals.

“The National Universities Commission recommends an average of eight students per body in Nigeria.

“They are never sold in the market in any part of the world. Since human anatomy is the science that is concerned with the structures of the human body, these structures cannot be fully understood from written descriptions to dimensional pictures or plastic models.

“The dissection of the human body (cadavers) is the basis for understanding the structure and functions of the human body for several centuries. In other words, to fully understand the importance of cadavers to man is far and beyond what we should overlook.

“One of my studies revealed that about 12 to 15 students used a body against the International Standard that recommends a maximum of six students to one body. The National Universities Commission recommends an average of eight students per body in Nigeria.”

”The pressure to produce more doctors keeps mounting every year while the provision of facilities including cadaver supplies are limited in the country”, he said.

The issue of human dead bodies for study of anatomy has generated a history of conflict in human society.

About 200 years ago, there were riots in America and attacks on high profile figures in England and Scotland.

The attacks, according to findings, were not sparked by hunger, poverty or a yearning for political reform. Instead it was public repulsion on realising that bodies of the recently dead had been stolen from graveyards, obtained by deception from hospitals, or worse, and spirited away. Their destination? Dissection in the name of the medical sciences that were blossoming at the time.

In an attempt to end this situation, the UK passed the Anatomy Act of 1832. This meant that anatomists, rather than having to rely on grave robbers, had legal access to the unclaimed corpses of people who had died in workhouses or in prison, supplemented in later years by those who died in mental hospitals. Supply met growing demand and public anger abated.

But the probably unintended and unforeseen result was to make poverty the sole criterion for dissection. It also set in stone the legitimacy of using unclaimed bodies for educational and research purposes, something that dominated anatomical practice in many countries until the 1950s or later.

However, unclaimed bodies continue to constitute the source of cadavers in some countries, as many are passed to state anatomy boards.

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