Jamal Al Mutawa, the manager of External Services at the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad), says funerals should not become a privatised industry.
Abu Dhabi hearse service is free and 'always will be', says Haad
ABU DHABI // The task of transporting bodies to the grave is a free service in the capital - and it will remain that way, say health officials.
The funeral service industry is worth billions worldwide, with people paying top dollar to give the deceased the send off they deserve. But for those who are buried in Abu Dhabi, the service costs nothing.
"We are all equal in death, regardless of one's standing in the community, and the afterlife is not something that should generate a profit," said Dr Jamal Al Mutawa, the manager of External Services at the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad).
"This service should be provided by our side."
With no hearses available, bodies are taken to the grave in specially-designed ambulances approved by the World Health Organization and supplied by an emirate's health authority.
Haad has 16 vehicles in total distributed between the Eastern and Western Regions, as well as the capital.
"We don't call them ambulances, but they look like ambulances. They are specially designed for carrying bodies and for someone to sit inside, so they are not equipped like normal ambulances. There is no equipment inside, only a space for the deceased and relatives to sit inside if they want to accompany the body," said Dr Al Mutawa.
By providing this service, Haad can keep track of the number of deaths in the capital as well as limit the risk of infection being spread.
So long as the body is treated in a respectful and dignified manner, the authority should be commended for handling the transportation of bodies, said Sheikh Musa Furber, an Islamic sciences expert and research associate for the Tabah Foundation, a privately funded research institute in Abu Dhabi.
"It is commendable on their part that they are trying to make sure this doesn't become a source of people wasting money.
"Burial costs tend to come from the deceased's estate. If it was privatised, people would start paying a lot of money, and the deceased's estate would start disappearing.
"That money, which is intended for his inheritors, would then start going toward his funeral and it would be an unnecessary cost."
Vivian Albertyn, who founded Middle East Funeral Services which helps families repatriate bodies, says the funeral industry is not something the UAE is acutely aware of.
"The various authorities are not used to the afterlife services concept yet. When I started my company six years ago, it was quite tough to get a trademark.
"In the West, it is different. It is a bit of a cultural thing too. That's why they don't want to privatise it here."
Overall, the service is "well done," he said.