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Medical waste poses serious threat to public health

Medical waste released from government and private healthcare establishments in the country is posing serious threat to public health and environment.

Experts said deadly diseases may spread among people due to rampant dumping of a huge quantity of medical waste, which is released from hospitals across the country every day.

Meanwhile, the government has taken an initiative to ensure proper medical waste management in government hospitals in the country.

“The government has already taken a programme for proper waste management in hospitals. The programme will continue to protect public health from the harmful effects of medical waste,” Dr Sheikh Daud Adnan, director (hospitals and clinics) of Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), told the Daily Sun.

The DGHS sources said there are over 600 government hospitals and health complexes, including 29 medical college hospitals and 18 specialised institute and hospitals, and around 18,000 private hospitals, diagnostics centres and blood banks across the country, including in Dhaka.

Country’s private and government health facilities have over one lakh and more than 50,000 beds respectively, the sources added.

Hospital and other healthcare facilities sources said the volume of medical waste generated in the healthcare establishments, including hospitals, clinics, diagnostic centres and blood banks, has been increasing day by day in the country.

Usually the healthcare establishments generate medical wastes like sharp and non-sharp metallic items, including syringe needles, medical devices, surgically removed body parts, human body fluids, dressing materials, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, radioactive materials, glass materials and plastic materials.

According to experts, medical wastes can pollute environment and also affect public health as it contains highly toxic metals, toxic chemicals, pathogenic viruses and bacteria.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said of the total amount of waste generated by healthcare activities, about 85 percent is general, non-hazardous waste comparable to domestic waste, while the remaining 15 percent is considered hazardous material that may be infectious, chemical or radioactive.

“Health-care waste contains potentially harmful microorganisms that can infect hospital patients, health workers and general public. Other potential hazards may include drug-resistant microorganisms which spread from health facilities into the environment,” it added.

Experts said the untreated medical waste carries risk for hepatitis-B, hepatitis-C, tuberculosis (TB), diphtheria and AIDS infections, and the risk is increasing day by day due to lack of proper medical waste management both in government and nongovernment healthcare establishments in the country.

“The medical waste may carry different types of germs of diseases, including hepatitis B and AIDS, and the diseases may also spread among humans,” Dr Saif Ullah Munshi, Professor of Department of Virology at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), told the Daily Sun.

The healthcare establishment sources said until 2004 there were no organised form of medical waste management in the country while Dhaka City Corporation started collecting and disposal of medical solid wastes in the capital since 2005.

A survey of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), conducted before the pandemic, has found that 77 percent of private healthcare establishments do not have any facilities for treatment of medical waste and in about 28 percent of establishments have no waste management plan.

A study of BRAC conducted in 2020 has found that 248 tonnes of medical waste are generated daily from the government and private healthcare establishments in the country. Of the total waste, only around 14 percent is under proper management and this management is limited within the Dhaka city.

The WHO recommends selecting safe and environmentally-friendly management options to protect people from hazards when collecting, handling, storing, transporting, treating or disposing of waste.

Talking to the Daily Sun, Sharif Jamil, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), said medical waste is a growing concern for the country as the volume of the waste has been increasing day by day, polluting the environment and affecting human health.

“In this situation, open dumping of medical waste should be stopped immediately and the waste will have to be treated and recycled after disposing at its source,” the environmentalist said.

The health and family welfare ministry in 2022 has taken a project of setting up waste management systems at 15 government hospitals by 2024 at a cost of around Tk 214 crore.

The project titled ‘Establishment of Medical Waste Management System’ is developing infrastructures to manage waste from 15 government hospitals in Dhaka and 12 other districts.

“This project outline has been prepared for compact medical waste management system within 2024. However, we have sent a revised project plan as prices of necessary logistics have been increased. If the plan is passed, then we will start the project activities as soon as possible,” Dr ABM Mashiul Alam, Project Director of Medical Waste Management of the DGHS, told the Daily Sun.

The government has enacted a law titled ‘Bangladesh Medical Waste Management and Processing Rules 2008’ to deal with medical waste, including waste collection and disposal in the country.

Prism Bangladesh Foundation, NGO is involved in medical waste management activates in Dhaka and some other districts but their system is not a complete solution, experts said.

Meanwhile, as the WHO and the United Nations recommended treating infectious waste directly on hospital site, the authorities have set up microwave medical waste plant ‘sterilwave’ in some hospitals to treat and recycle the medical waste.

The sterilwave medical waste plant manufactured in France has been set up in BSMMU hospital, Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery in Dhaka city and in 500-bed Sheikh Hasina Medical College in Tangail. Process to set up another plant is under process in Kushtia district hospital.

“The sterilwave is the ideal treatment solution for institutions producing a large quantity of biomedical waste as it can treat 100 kg per hour with minimum operating costs,” Naba Kumar Biswas, deputy manager of Tradevision Limited which is involved in maintenance of the waste management plant, said.

The Sterilwave converts biomedical waste into dry waste which is inert and completely disinfected, reducing its weight by more than 25 percent and its volume by 85 percent, he added.