A swarm of flies feasts on loads of garbage in the Saddar area.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
A swarm of flies feasts on loads of garbage in the Saddar area.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

KARACHI: Expressing concern over the prevailing insanitary conditions in the city, health experts on Wednesday warned that this could complicate and aggravate the ongoing Covid-19 health crisis if immediate measures were not taken to improve the standard of hygiene and sanitation in the metropolis.

They also called upon the government to educate the general public on how to safely dispose of single-use face masks that could be releasing chemical pollutants and nanoplastic into the environment.

“Insanitary conditions help spread all kinds of viral and bacterial infections. And, if these infections combine [in patients], this could be disastrous in the current situation when we are facing a pandemic,” said Dr Rafiq Khanani, a senior pathologist and president of the Infection Control Society of Pakistan.

Explaining his point, he said the relationship of coronavirus with other infections such as the mosquito-borne dengue virus was important and also relevant as most cases of dengue were seen between August and November. These cases peaked in September.

Govt urged to urgently dispose of garbage and remains of sacrificial animals from all parts of Karachi

A combination of both these infections in patients, Dr Khanani pointed out, would make diagnosis and treatment challenging as they presented with similar signs and symptoms (including high fever, body aches, nausea and vomiting).

“Besides, there is a threat of viral mutation. This happens with the use of medicines leading to development of a genetic pressure and also due to exchange of genetic material between viruses. Therefore, we can say that the coronavirus can take a more lethal form, nullifying all our efforts including vaccination,” he said.

Gastro, typhoid cases on the rise

Sharing similar concerns, Dr Qaiser Sajjad of the Pakistan Medical Association said the city had been invaded by flies and mosquitoes, a major source of transmission of several infections.

“The situation is pretty bad in the country’s urban areas particularly Karachi, which is seeing a rise in cases of gastroenteritis and typhoid,” he said, calling upon the government to carry out fumigation and cleanliness exercises throughout the year especially near hospitals, markets and at garbage dumping sites.

“We request the government to dispose of garbage and sacrificial remains on an urgent basis. All civic agencies should at once initiate fumigation drives in their respective areas to overcome the spread of diseases,” said Dr Sajjad, while citing a study according to which a fly could carry about 100 organisms that caused gastrointestinal and eye infections.

“The general public should also act with responsibility. Wash your hands with soap before eating, cover edibles and avoid eating out these days. Keep your surroundings clean. Throw your garbage at proper places,” he added.

No Karachi Metropolitan Corporation official was available for comments.

‘Half of Karachi not in SSWMB domain’

When contacted, executive director-operations Tariq Nizamani of the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board (SSWMB) said his department was responsible for lifting of garbage in five district municipal corporations (DMCs) and it was actively engaged and doing its “best” considering available resources.

“The department has an app that people can download and lodge complaints [through]. The department takes swift action and the complaint is addressed the same day,” he said, adding all stakeholders lauded the department for its offal operation during Eid days.

When asked about heaps of garbage at several places in the city, he said almost half of the city didn’t fall within their domain.

“There are 12 allied agencies including Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, cantonment boards, Karachi Port Trust and Port Qasim where the board isn’t directly engaged, though it coordinates. Around 35 to 40 per cent of city localities are with agencies, 15 per cent with the two DMCs and 50 per cent with the board,” he said.

The board, he said, would have an agreement with Korangi and Central DMCs by the end of this month and start operation through a Spanish company.

The government, he said, had engaged a Spanish company because the job involved high investment and use of modern methods.

To another question, he claimed the city generated 10,000 tonnes to 12,000 tonnes of solid waste daily and that fumigating the city was KMC’s responsibility.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2021

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