The Environmental Protection Department has started a programme to educate hospital staff about the proper disposal of waste and the hazards of not doing so.
A large amount of plastic waste from hospitals – urine and blood bags, syringes and tubes – is sold to manufacturers of plastic cutlery and furniture, which is both illegal and dangerous to public health.
“There is a mafia of doctors, nurses and sanitary workers across Punjab who resell used plastic items, spreading disease to our homes,” said EPD Deputy Director (technical) Azmat Naz, who heads the training initiative.
In 2006, the federal government started supplying incinerators to 19 district headquarters hospitals. However, an Environmental Protection Agency survey starting in 2010 and still ongoing showed only seven of these incinerators were in use.
Naz said many hospital administrators complained about lack of electricity or gas to operate the incinerators, but this was often just an excuse. She said that the department felt that an education programme was the best way to curb the sale of hospital waste.
She said the EPD could take action under Sections 12 and 14 of the Punjab Environment Protection Act 2012 against hospital administrations, as it had in the past. But she said that once their cases were tried in the environmental tribunal and the offending staff were fined, they would go right back to selling waste.
“We decided that workshops to educate the nurses, the paramedical staff and the sanitary workers about the hazards infectious waste pose would have a positive effect,” she said.
Since September 1, Naz and the three other EPD officials on her team have conducted training sessions at Mayo, Ganga Ram, Lady Willingdon, General, Services, Jinnah, Wapda, Shalimar and Children’s Hospitals. They are to go to Gulab Devi Hospital on Tuesday and to the Punjab Dental Hospital and the Veterinary Hospital later this week.
Once the hospitals in Lahore have been covered, the EPD will conduct training in other big cities in the province, aiming eventually to cover the whole of the Punjab.
Naz said that from what she had seen so far, many doctors were reluctant to attend the training sessions. “A lot of them seem to think they know everything and that no one can teach them anything,” she said.
She said that she had learnt that sanitary workers were often not supplied gloves or masks, though public hospitals had specific budgetary allocations for this. She said that health professionals including doctors at public hospitals rarely disposed of infectious and non-hazardous waste separately.
Naz said district inspectors had been assigned the job of tracking waste management in hospitals where staff were yet to be trained.
EPD Secretary Saeed Iqbal Wahla said the department was currently short of staff. He said once EPD officials were finished with the anti-dengue campaign, some would be sent to check hospitals to make sure that they had taken the lessons of the training on board.
The EPA survey on hospital waste has so far looked at 1,118 hospitals, clinics and laboratories in the Punjab and found that only 146 are disposing of infectious and non-infectious waste separately and incinerating the waste, as required by the Hospital Waste Management Rules of 2005. Incineration usually kills off the infectious element while also reducing the volume.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2012.