There are reports of unscrupulous contractors stealing waste being produced in Covid-19 hospital wards
There had been reports about theft of harmful hospital waste and its sale to recycling factories, in different cities of the country. Now there are reports that unscrupulous contractors are stealing waste produced in hospital wards where coronavirus patients are being treated. This is going on, though stealthily, at hospitals in Punjab. Thieves are not being deterred by the fact that Covid-19 is a contagious disease and so special care has to be taken for disposal of the waste generated in isolation wards for coronavirus patients. As is the case in most spheres of life, this is happening as a result of negligence on the part of relevant departments.
The theft and sale of the highly dangerous hospital waste are taking place reportedly due to the failure of the provincial health and environment departments to develop a mechanism for safe disposal of medical waste during the coronavirus pandemic. A provincial health department official has admitted that there is no monitoring system in place for disposal of medical waste and few hospitals have incinerators, saying around 20% of the waste are highly infectious as it is produced in coronavirus, cancer, AIDS, hepatitis and surgery wards. This situation has made it easy for contractors to steal such dangerous waste and sell it to recycling factories. Another health official says tonnes of harmful waste are produced at hospitals, including in isolation wards, in the province, and a large part of this waste is stolen. There are many factories in Lahore and other cities of the province where medical waste is recycled into plastic pots, toys and other items. Those handling such products run the risk of contracting dangerous diseases.
Why strict action against this illegal recycling business is not being taken remains an official secret. According to WHO instructions, the coronavirus waste should be buried at landfill sites at a safe distance from human settlements. These SOPs are reportedly being followed more in breach than in observance.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2020.