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GLIDE Fellow Halina Suwalowska and colleagues have published a Comment in The Lancet Global Health highlighting the issue of unidentified bodies – a global health crisis requiring urgent attention.

Every year, millions of dead people across the globe remain unidentified and the circumstances surrounding their death are often unknown. Identification represents one of the most basic of all human rights and yet with continuing humanitarian disasters, infectious disease outbreaks, mass migrations on precarious and often deadly routes, as well as human trafficking, the numbers of unidentified dead bodies continues to grow.

The article identifies important ethical and practical concerns, including personal tragedy for families of the deceased and costs to public health, alongside a number of significant barriers such as underfunded forensic systems, scarce scientific resources, and inadequate infrastructure.

The article concludes that a combined effort, involving global and local actors, demanding the prioritisation of identification is necessary, especially for marginalised communities. It highlights important actions that could contribute towards addressing this crisis, including incorporating the identification of unidentified dead bodies within surveillance and social protection systems, and developing a standardised approach to identification at a global level.

Halina Suwalowska, Joseph Ali, João Rangel de Almeida, Stephen Antonio Fonseca, Laura Jane Heathfield, Craig Adam Keyes, Robert Lukande, Lorna J Martin, Kate Megan Reid, Vina Vaswani, Harihar Wasti, Regis O Wilson, Michael Parker, Patricia Kingori,“The Nobodies”: unidentified dead bodies—a global health crisis requiring urgent attention, The Lancet Global Health, Volume 11, Issue 11, 2023, Pages e1691-e1693, ISSN 2214-109X,