COVID-19 medical waste poses lurking threat in Pakistan

medical waste

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is producing mountains of medical waste contaminated with COVID-19 infectious materials each day without making proper rules and regulations to dump the hazardous trashes.

If prompt action delays, crisis of spiral spread of COVID-19 may spell doom, says a report published by Gwadar Pro App.

Since the pandemic outbroke in the country, COVID-19 hospital waste has been unregulated, posing a serious threat to the daily-surged coronavirus cases.

As government has yet to come up with special Standard Operative Procedures (SOPs) and guidelines to collect, pack, store and dispose highly dangerous COVID-19 infectious medical garbage and sharps, hospital staff as well as waste collectors is susceptible to contract the disease.
Meanwhile, in the absence of public guideline, people have no idea how to trash their used COVID-19 trash.

Young Doctor Association (YDA) senior vice president Dr Shoaib Niazi, who once acted as focal person for COVID-19 patients at Lahore’s famous Mayo Hospital, recommended for putting in place special “set of regulations” to deal with infected medical items including boots, aprons, long-sleeved gowns, thick gloves, masks, and goggles or face shields.

“Medical practitioners are not versed with special criteria to handle used COVID-19 stuff,” he categorically said, “We have been disposing COVID-19 used material in Red containers supposed to be used for trash substance of dangerous diseases linked to blood and human fluid.

As unseen situation tends to evolve, we expect that our health system will be more prepared to reckon with virus-laden waste being generated by public hospital and field hospital on daily basis,” he added.

Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) executive member Dr Izhar Ahmed Ch lashed out at government for staying idle on management of Coronavirus hospital waste. It seems to be criminal oblivion that government has no plan on COVID-19 medical waste, he alleged.

It is worth noting that Hospital Waste Management System is already underperforming. With fresh load of COVID-19 medical rubbishes, the current system has gone exposed in totality.

Usually medical waste is disposed of by burning into incinerators installed at public hospitals. However, entire mechanism from hospital waste centers to incinerators is brimming with multiple irregularities, giving rise to hazardous risks. After COVID-19 ordeal, bleak situation appears to be compounded.

Punjab is the worst hit area by witnessing more than 2000 pandemic cases till the filing of story. Its capital, Lahore houses incinerators at four public hospitals including Lady Aitchison Hospital, Jinnah Hospital, Children Hospital and Ganga Ram Hospital.

Lahore used to produce 17,400 kg hospital waste every day before the COVID-19 crisis. Merely 3,000 kg would make their entry into the Children’s Hospital for incineration through Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC).

The rest is tackled by private enterprises that remain prone to mishandled largely. In current scenario when public hospitals and field hospitals have been generating many times higher than previous waste, COVID-19 garbage may be a lurking threat.

LWMC Managing Director Roa Imitaz talking to a private TV channel said that LWMC had nothing to with COVID-19 hospital waste. “We had agreement earlier to deal with medical trash with government. Since 29 February, 2020, agreement had ended,” he claimed.

Dr Shahid Iqbal, an environmentalist, said that there were reports that unscrupulous companies recycled hospital waste to make kids items such children feeders, disposable plastic spoons, plates, glasses, pots, utensils and so on. “We do not know exactly what will happen with COVID-19 hospital waste, if recycled,” he added.

There’s more to worry about than waste from medical centers. The disease is spread out beyond hospitals. Some people who have minor symptoms are recovering at home. Others who are asymptomatic might not know that the trash they’re throwing out could be contaminated.

That means people may be generating plenty of virus-laden trash. That is worrying for sanitation workers, as the virus can persist for up to a day on cardboard and for longer on metal and plastic, according to one study of the virus in lab conditions.

In Wuhan, where the novel coronavirus first emerged, officials didn’t just need to build new hospitals for the influx of patients; they had to construct a new medical waste plant and deploy 46 mobile waste treatment facilities, too.

Hospitals there generated six times as much medical waste at the peak of the outbreak as they did before the crisis. The daily output of medical waste reached 240 metric tons, about the weight of an adult blue whale.

United Nation Environment Program (UNEP) issued guidelines on March 24 that effective management of biomedical and health-care waste requires appropriate identification, collection, separation, storage, transportation, treatment and disposal, as well as important associated aspects including disinfection, personnel protection and training.

The safe management of household waste is also likely to be critical during the COVID-19 emergency. Medical waste such as contaminated masks, gloves, used or expired medicines, and other items can easily become mixed with domestic garbage, but they should be treated as hazardous waste and disposed of separately.

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