Menace of deadly hospital wastes

by Abu Shams


In normal civic life, management of the city’s wastes has always been a challenging task. As it is, this task isn’t normally done well with the result that such slipshod management practices sometimes create hazardous public health issues. Management of Hospital wastes is an important public health issue requiring priority consideration in the interest of public health requirement.

There are many forms of waste that can do harm to people’s health. Experts say that exposure to toxic elements like lead, cadmium, mercury, DDT, PCB, and certain chemicals can pose serious health problems. In developed countries, most of these risks have already been identified and brought under control, but not so in the developing world where many of such risks remain beyond the ken of expert knowledge.

Even where any such risks are readily identifiable, it is not an easy task to impose controls. There are harmful implications: as climate changes and global warming have increased the planet’s heat-related diseases, they also change the pattern of distribution of infection and vector-borne diseases entailing heavy tolls.

This makes it more important to do something about hospital wastes, much of which can be highly toxic and threatening to life.

With the growing urbanisation involving proliferation of health clinics and hospitals in the private sector in many parts of the city besides the government hospitals, the hazards from careless disposal of hospital wastes have aggravated ominously. This is due to the fact that there are no functional rules or regulations regarding disposal of hospital wastes in the country. The presence of used needles, syringes, blood-stained gauge and bandages in the garbage dumps in the vicinity of such establishments is a common sight. The greater danger is that these deadly hospital wastes are sometimes used by the society’s evil elements to earn money putting the public health in great danger.

We may often come across scenes in the vicinity of some hospitals and clinics where shady characters are found engaged in laying used bandages on the grass for drying or washing used ‘one time’ syringes with water with great care for selling them to some equally shady medicine shops. It is not difficult for such shady operatives to make such used articles look like new with the help of easily available machinery to make new plastic labels or packets. These fake products are presented to customers ingenuously that are unable to differentiate between the real and the fake ones.

Then an equally vital issue remains. It is the question of safe disposal of contaminated blood, stool urine and swab samples when the laboratory tests are done. Health experts are of the opinion that even when these harmful things are poured into covered drains or flushed into sanitary toilets, there is no guarantee that the bacteria or germs will not find their way to the surface water through numerous cracks in the iron or plastic pipes. From the open drains or garbage dumps, the germs and bacteria are easily carried to nearby homes by stray cats and dogs, thereby endangering the lives of all the inmates of the houses and even their neighbours. The role of the house-flies in this respect is no less hazardous.

It is common knowledge that the large hospitals in the city normally dispose of their wastes on roadside garbage heaps. So far as knowledge goes, none of such hospitals has a medical waste management system., not even an incinerator to de-contaminate the infectious waste.

However, in the absence of any real data on the disposal of waste and the lack of any detailed information on the risks to health controlling the disposal of waste becomes difficult.

In this context, it may be noted that as the increased population puts added pressure on the hospitals, many have to increase their capacity to accommodate patients, which means the amount of hospital waste they produce have also a tendency to increase.In this context it may be relevant to mention that, according to the findings of some researchers, when rainwater mixes with refuse in a garbage dump, the mix produces stinky liquids which seep through several layers of soil to the water table below carrying deadly microorganisms and bacterial and toxic chemicals. Several tests conducted by specialists of the World Bank have reportedly found ground water contamination in different parts of the city.

There are waste dumps near city’s hospitals and health clinics in which wastes from such establishments are routinely thrown. The seepage resulting from rainwater mixing with such hazardous wastes is an ominous possibility which cannot be dismissed off-hand.

According to experts, there are scientific methods for destroying waste samples and used syringes and saline bags. In the interest of urgent considerations of public health, it is incumbent on the authorities concerned to take appropriate measures of breaking the rackets of evil-doers making financial gains from these heinous activities.

The laboratory test samples, after use, need be disposed of effectively so that the threatening organisms cannot contaminate clean water or food to vitiate the public health arena. Similarly to prevent re-use of all disposable syringes, there are mechanical methods available whereby such used syringes are crushed into tiny bits. As regards cleaning of hospital linens, care should be taken by hospital authorities so that proper disinfectants are used, segregating the job of washing and cleaning of all hospital linens for specific personnel only, so that they may not be a source of contamination and disease.

According to knowledgeable sources, there is no scope for taking the menace from contaminated medical waste lightly. On the one hand, there is a rising trend of establishment of new private hospitals and clinics all over the city and on its outskirts, which coupled with the existing ones, contribute substantially to the growth of medically harmful environment from contaminated medical waste. On the other hand, there seems to be no perceptible awareness among competent quarters to adopt suitably effective measures to tackle the menace. Installation of suitable machinery and adoption of proper methods need be made mandatory for all the hospital and clinical authorities for ensuring proper public health objectives.

Source: The Independent Friday 5 January 2001