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Improper medical waste dumping on the rise


Along with adults, many children, carrying torn tote bags, move around the two cities from one dumpster to another sorting out the garbage to collect valuables that can then be sold for recycling.
However, both adults and children, in their scavenger hunt to make a living, are exposed to dangerous medical waste – complaints of which being improperly discarded are on an alarming rise.
As per the laws regulating hospitals and laboratories, such waste must be disposed of at high temperatures and a log book containing details of waste discarded be kept. However, sources indicate that log books are non-existent and employees at small private street clinics, which the twin cities combined have roughly 13,000 of, sell the waste secretly to earn a daily wage of Rs 200 to 300. In the scenario that the waste cannot be sold it is thrown into nearby dumpsters, from where children like Khanzada, an Afghan refugee in his early-teens who roams the streets of Rawalpindi in search of garbage, pick it up. “I have been doing this for 3 to 4 years now. If I can find paper, empty bottles, and medical waste they make me decent money,” Khanzada said. 
Khanzada’s friend, Bacha Khan, who is the same age as him, scavenges through the piles of trash with him on a daily basis. While talking to the Express Tribune,  he said, “we go to the medical clinics in the surrounding areas early in the morning or in the evening and pick up the plastic syringes and drip bottles they throw away as these items make us good money.”
Read Action against hospitals for not disposing of medical waste
Mah Jabeen, thinking that her two friends were in trouble and came to inquire what the fuss was about, piped in by informing that garbage dumps near hospitals and laboratories were a gold mine for them considering how much waste they threw out. “The waste we collect from here we can sell for Rs 20 per kg,” she added.
However, what Mah Jabeen and her friends pay little heed to is the diseases that this hazardous waste might carry. “All medical waste is a source of contracting diseases, if the adult or children pick up syringes used in treatment of AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), or hepatitis then surely they will contract this disease,” informed Dr Ayaz, Senior Registrar at the District Headquarters Hospital in Rawalpindi. Ayaz, expressing his disappointment with the city’s administration not being able to enforce rules against public discarding of medical waste, said that such garbage was so dangerous that if it stayed in the open for a few days, the bacteria from it polluted the air which could make passing pedestrians sick.
Shaukat Raja, who owns a junkyard in the Pirwadhai area of Rawalpindi, buys regularly from children like Mah Jabeen and pays little attention to how this scavenging might affect their health. “The children do a good job in sorting the trash and bring to us all sorts of valuable medical waste like used syringes, drip plastic bags, blood bags, and empty bottles,” Raja informed. He said that sometimes the children brought cut bones and other surgery disposal waste as well which could also be sold. “My job is to sell the trash, I send it all to Lahore for wholesale. I do not care what wholesale buyers do with it,” he added.
Talking about the rising complaints of improper dumping of medical waste, Muhammad Amin Baig, Deputy Director of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Rawalpindi, said that hospitals should install incinerators, a modern type of disposal machine for medical waste burning at high temperatures. He informed that hospitals that do not have the device installed are required by law to enter into a waste disposal agreement with hospitals which do. “As far as the junkyards are concerned, cases are registered against those from where medical waste is found and the owners are fined heavily,” Baig told The Express Tribune.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2021.

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