LAHORE, March 29: Customs authorities have allowed a large mass of imported infectious medical waste into the country under the garb of ‘PVC plastic scrap’ in blatant violation of Pakistan’s import policy and the Basel Convention.

This hazardous medical waste stocked and being openly sold in the city may spread fatal infectious diseases like hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis among those coming in contact with it.

The clinical waste including IV (intravenous) tubes and used infusion plastic bags was imported from UK and some other countries and stocked in various warehouses and godowns in Shahdara for its sale as plastic scrap despite a world-wide ban on such activity.

A source said besides surgical waste, the non-sterilised hazardous plastic scrap is also being crushed and sold openly in bulk despite the fact that the import of hazardous waste was strictly prohibited under local and international laws like Basel Convention and import policy of Pakistan.

The infectious medical waste, including IV drips, urine bags and glass vials are easily available in abundance in some localities of Shahdara, reportedly reaching there through various layers of ‘dealers’ mafia.

At least three official documents of the Lahore customs department -- goods declaration form, laboratory analysis report and examination report by customs shed -- speak volumes for the scale of criminal negligence or connivance of the authorities concerned in this regard.

In the ‘goods declaration form’ the custom officials have listed the imported material as ‘post-production plastic scrap’, the non-consumed scrap or left-over material obtained after the completion of production process.

Similarly, in the ‘examination report by customs shed’ the hazardous medical waste has been mentioned as “production PVC plastic scrap in shape of infusion bags and tubing in pressed bails”.

However, in the chemical examiner report (laboratory analysis report) at the Lahore dry port the official concerned has categorically mentioned that “sample comprises of one dirty infusion bag and one small-size piece of translucent cream colour flexible plastic tube (IV tube)”. The containers’ examination report also mentions the material as medical waste.

Lahore dry port custom laboratory deputy chemical examiner Ms Shahida Tanveer had mentioned in her Test Memo that “Sample comprises one cutted dirty infusion plastic bag; one small size piece of translucent cream colour, flexible, partially fused, plastic tube and one translucent cream colour thick sheet-like piece of molten plastic mass. On chemical examination the composition material of all the three pieces is found to be PVC compound”.

The issuance of clearance report despite mentioning the scrap as ‘dirty infusion plastic bag’ is another glaring example of either gross negligence or favouritism as such bags are included in the medical disposables.

Interestingly, the medical waste was imported from the United Kingdom (UK) which is one of those European countries where there are strict laws in place to check such unethical practices.

Despite such clear anomalies, the officials at Lahore dry port cleared the containers carrying the prohibited items that shows not only blatant violation of laid down rules and import policy but also administrative loopholes in monitoring, putting health of thousands of people at a grave risk.

The customs authorities, however, defended their position claiming the officials concerned did their job according to the rules and regulations.

“The custom officials were discharging their duties in accordance with Import Policy and Basel Convention, besides rules and regulations of their own department”, Lahore Customs Collector Salman Abbasi told Dawn.

However, after going through the official documents available with Dawn, he refused to say more in his department’s defence.

Explaining the modus operandi of the mafia involved in the dirty business, the source said that they (mafia) would get surgical waste collected from the collapsed buildings of the medical institutions abroad through their agents. They would also order their agents abroad to collect the clinical waste during the earthquakes, tsunami, flooding and such other natural disasters causing destruction of hospitals.

A senior official told Dawn requesting anonymity that Punjab, particularly its capital, became a fertile ground for those involved in the business after the Sindh High Court issued a stay order against the import of post-consumer hazardous scrap.

He said some 250 containers carrying ‘plastic waste’ were stopped at the Karachi dry port following the court orders. Many of such containers were somehow later shipped to the dry ports of Lahore and Sialkot, he added.

He said Pakistan being a signatory of Basel Convention was bound to regulate movement of hazardous waste. As per provisions of the Convention, trans-boundary movement of such material is only allowed after approval from the importing country.

As the imported scrap was not sterilised, any human exposure to it may pose serious health risks, he added, citing dengue epidemic that broke out due to used tyres’ import.

Currently some 20 to 25 major godowns and warehouses storing plastic scrap are operating in various Shahdara localities, including Farrukhabad, Ferozewala, Shah Khalid Town, Al Rai Road, Baradari Road, Faisal Park, and Barkat Town.

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