Medical waste

Updated September 05, 2019

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WHEN Karachi resident Shaneira Akram went for a morning stroll along the Clifton beach on Tuesday, she was shocked to discover large amounts of medical waste lying around on the sand.

Along with heaps of plastic bags and other garbage, the tide had brought with it several blood vials and open syringes to the shoreline.

Thanks to her efforts in raising the alarm about the potential public health catastrophe through a series of tweets and videos, the Sindh Police quickly cordoned off the area, while municipal authorities brought in heavy machinery to clean up the site.

The beach may have been cleared for now, but the larger issue of Karachi’s waste disposal and management cannot be buried so neatly.

According to a report published a day after the heavily publicised incident, the vast majority of healthcare facilities in the city by the sea still do not have the necessary equipment to safely collect and dispose of medical waste.

This is an open secret, written about countless times before: hospitals, clinics and maternity centres continue to dump toxic waste in the open, or directly into water bodies, despite being well aware of the danger such actions pose to ordinary citizens.

Of course, Karachi is not alone; healthcare facilities across the country engage in similar irresponsible practices.

A host of infectious diseases are linked to toxic medical waste, while garbage collectors and scavengers, along with those living close to medical centres, are especially threatened.

It is unknown what percentage of the waste actually goes through incinerators, how many of these are even functional, or whether healthcare practitioners are separating highly toxic and non-toxic waste at the source.

Answers to these questions are needed, and the provincial government must do more than just “write letters” to hospitals to ensure that proper procedures of waste disposal are being followed.

It is nothing short of criminal when those whose duty it is to provide healthcare to the people can so casually and callously toy with it.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2019