THE High Court’s directive to the government on Sunday to create a separate Medical Waste Management Authority in each division by October 4 is welcome. The court gave the directive to the health ministry and the Department of Environment as medical wastes littered on roads in different parts of the capital Dhaka and other cities continue to cause public nuisance, which is a poignant pointer to the lack of proper medical waste management as well as apathy of the authorities concerned towards public health.
According to some city dwellers, not only hazardous medical wastes but also electronic and electrical wastes are often found at their homes, offices and business centres, being carried by rain waters; but they have none to complain to against it. A Department of Environment director observed that medical wastes are very likely to contain, mercury, lead, cadmium, zinc and other harmful elements for the environment and public.
The data collected by an organisation show that 60 Health Care Establishments generate a total of 5,562 kg of wastes per day, of which about 77.4 per cent are non-hazardous and about 22.6 per cent are hazardous. The average waste generation rate from the surveyed establishments is 1.9 kg from each bed per day or 0.5 kg from each patient per day. But there is no proper and systematic management of these wastes except in a few private Health Care Establishments that segregate their infectious wastes. Some cleaners are even found in some establishments to salvage used sharps, saline bags, blood bags and test tubes for resale or reuse.
Lack of awareness and inappropriate policy and laws are responsible for the improper management of medical wastes in almost all cities. The hazardous substances in the waste include pathological and infectious materials, such as, sharps and chemical wastes. In hospitals, different kinds of therapeutic procedures, such as, cobalt therapy, chemotherapy, dialysis, surgery, delivery, resection of gangrenous organs, autopsy, biopsy, para clinical tests and injections are carried out, which result in the production of infectious and radioactive wastes and chemical materials. Medical waste may carry germs of such deadly diseases as hepatitis B and AIDS. It contains highly toxic metals and chemicals, pathogenic viruses and bacteria, which can lead to pathological dysfunction of the human body. Poor scavengers, women and children, are often found collecting some of the medical wastes, such as, syringe-needles, saline bags, blood bags etc. for reselling despite the deadly health risks.
The safe disposal of medical waste is key to minimisation of illness and injury through contact with these potentially hazardous materials, and to prevention of environmental contamination. The manner in which the corporations dispose of the waste is anything but scientific. The High Court’s directive to create a separate Medical Waste Management Authority in each division by October 4, therefore, is sound and judicious. Non-compliance with the directive by the government would not be a worthwhile step.
Of course, this is a matter that has arisen in Bangladesh where presently standards of waste management, of all wastes, are astonishingly poor. It must get better, though I wonder if this will really make a difference?