A large number of people using items made from hospital waste, recycled or repackaged illegally at facilities in Lahore’s suburbs are at risk of contracting diseases the waste carries. If hospital waste is not incinerated properly, it can cause HIV, hepatitis B, C, A and E, diarrhea, typhoid, bacterial infections, UTI and intoxication. Not only that, people living near the place where hospital waste is unsafely stored or burnt are also likely to be affected by bacterial infections. There are about 20 such places, small and big, at the outskirts of Lahore.
Hospital waste includes infected urine bags, glucose drips, intravenous bottles, intravenous bags and contaminated plastic of used syringes; these are recycled to produce straws, plastic plates and dishes. One of the workers in the warehouses where hospital waste is sold told me that sanitary workers from different private and public hospitals have been selling the waste to the warehouses at a cost of Rs5-10 per kilogramme, which is then recycled to produce other items, like straws and plastic plates.
According to Environment Protection Department officials, the purpose of placing incinerators at hospitals was to kill germs present in blood transfusion waste, infected urine bags, glucose drips etc. However, the waste is treated illegally at warehouses at a temperature that can’t kill the germs. The Environment Protection Department can register a case against this practice under Section 269 and Section 270 of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860, which is regarding negligent and malignant acts likely to spread infection of disease which endanger life. The punishment for violating this law is imprisonment of at least six months or a fine, or both.
The present number of incinerators to dispose of hospital waste is insufficient. What is needed is a system that helps segregate hazardous waste from non-hazardous, solid waste. Hospitals have been provided with three types of bins, including red, green and blue, to categorise and segregate different types of wastes, but unfortunately, they don’t bother doing this, and all the hospital waste is either sold to plastic scrapyards or dumped publicly, which is extremely dangerous for the people living in the city. We have to show farsightedness while dealing with such issues as proper work in this regard can help lower the cost of providing health facilities to the people.