A few minutes away from the main hospitals of the city, children are seen rummaging through trash, collecting used syringes, sharp blades and blood bags.
These children are gathering medical waste from garbage dumps outside hospitals to supply to shops in Khyber Bazaar, where the local traders buy them for Rs80 per kilogramme. Sorting through the garbage, children come into direct contact with germs and diseases from materials that have been used on patients.
There is no regulated disposal system in place for the waste produced by hospitals in Peshawar. Medical waste is more dangerous than normal garbage as tools (such as syringes) may have been used on patients with easily contractible diseases or to administer drugs and chemicals that are toxic to the environment.
Children rummaging in the trash are prone to diseases such as AIDS, Hewpatitis B and C with just a single prick of a sharp object.
“We are not sure what diseases we could be spreading, but this is our source to earn Rs500 to Rs600 a day,” Kaleem, a youth collecting syringes, empty syrup bottles and sharp blades from a garbage dump in front of the Lady Reading Hospital told The Express Tribune.
Kaleem said that many times they contracted infections on their exposed hands and feet, but were treated.
However, this was not always the case. “Our friend Mansoor, 17, was injured by a sharp object while going through the trash. He got a disease and was given some treatment, but he did not recover. He died two years ago.”
Kaleem said he likes the ‘freedom’ the job gives him. “In other jobs I have to follow instructions, but in this type of work there is no such thing.”
Another medical waste collector, Sultan Khan, was busy going through the garbage in front of Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH). “Dozens of doctors pass the dump site on the way to the hospital but none of them have ever spoken to me about the dangers of harvesting hospital waste materials,” he said. Sultan said the waste was taken to Lahore where it was recycled and converted to plastic utensils.
Dr. Amir Khan, a Trainee Medical Officer at KTH, said that there was a high probability that children rummaging in the waste would get a illnesses as they come into contact with tools used on patients carrying diseases.
“A proper recycling or sanitary medical waste disposal system does not exist in Peshawar. Staff carelessly throw the waste in front of the hospital,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2012.