ISLAMABAD, Dec 8: Government environmentalists are worried that more and more hospital waste is getting mixed with the municipal waste in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Officials at the Climate Change Division in the Federal Secretariat consider the mix lethal for the environment of the twin cities and the health of the nearly six million people living in them.
“Even more alarming is the fact that we have no data how much hospital waste is being produced by the healthcare facilities, what to say of the infectious part of it,” confided one official.
Normally 0.25 per cent of the three to four kilogramme of waste that an occupied hospital bed produces daily happens to be infectious waste.
Private hospitals have sprung up in commercial and residential areas of Islamabad without approval of the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) on how to handle and manage hospital and particularly infectious waste, lamented the source.
Standard operating procedures require hospital managements to segregate and incinerate their waste, instead of disposing it all as municipal waste, which ends up at landfill sites of the Capital Development Authority (CDA).
“That unlawful practice could especially contaminate the aquifers,” said the source.
However, only two units in the twin cities - the Shifa International and the National Cleaner Production Centre (NCPC), an allied body of Attock Refinery - have operational incinerators.
A member of the NCPC said few private hospitals were utilising its incinerating facility. He declined to name them, or say how much hospital waste it destroyed every month.
“Disposal of hospital waste, and its infectious content, has always been a neglected area,” Director-General Pak-EPA, Asif Shuja, told Dawn.
After the Senate Standing Committee on Environment expressed concern over hospital waste being mixed with municipal waste, the
Pak-EPA launched a survey to find out how many new hospitals and labs had sprung up in the twin cities and if they were properly segregating and disposing of their waste.
Nonetheless, the Climate Change Division environmentalists did not think the survey was “thorough enough”.
They believed many private hospitals and labs had been “missed or ignored”.
“There is a law in place. A procedure needs to be developed now under the Hospital Waste Management Rules 2005, on how hospital and laboratory waste should be segregated and disposed of,” said one of them.
However, hospital administrations and medical personnel, particularly in the public sector, largely ignore their responsibilities of handling and managing hospital waste properly.
Drafted by the Ministry of Environment, the Hospital Waste Management Rules 2005 lays down a clear hospital waste plan.
It talks about how to collect, segregate, store, transport and dispose of the waste.
It also spells out responsibilities of heads of departments, units, physicians and medical staff connected with the whole process.
Assistant Registrar, Pakistan Medical and Dental Council, Sitara Hassan, conceded that most medical institutions are ignorant of the criteria laid down for hospital waste disposal.
“Hospital waste management is taught under the headings Community Medicine and Preventive Healthcare, where it is touched in a chapter,” she said.
“Nobody bothers to study the subject deeper - except those who want to specialise in the two fields.”
She emphasised improved monitoring to ensure procedures are followed on disposing of hospital waste.
Secretary, Ministry of Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, Imtiaz Inayat Elahi, agreed that it was a weak area.
“But a law to address this huge problem in the private and public sector health units is almost ready,” he said.
“It is being addressed because environment is being degraded. A mechanism will soon be in place to bound hospitals and laboratories to destroy their waste instead of mixing it with normal municipal waste,” said Imtiaz Inayat Elahi.
But environmentalists argue that what is needed is to implement the existing Hospital Waste Management Rules 2005 rather than framing a new law.
“Little has been done by way of implementation since the promulgation of the Environment Protection Act 1997. That shows the seriousness of all sides to protect our environment,” said one environmentalist.
“They (the Pak-EPA and the Division) spring into action only when the Supreme Court or the parliamentary committees take notice of an issue,” he noted.