Healthcare wastes, including PPE-related ones, are posing a serious threat to the public health and environment during this pandemic as such wastes generated outside hospitals and clinics remain out of management across the country.
Even, there is no proper management for biomedical wastes generated in healthcare establishments in some major cities since well-equipped medical waste management plants are only there in Dhaka, Sylhet, Rangpur and Rajshahi and a small plant in Jashore.
Now the Covid-related wastes are generated largely outside healthcare establishments due to the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), including face-masks, gloves and sanitizer containers, but these mostly remain untreated.
However, the generation of biomedical wastes in the healthcare establishments declined following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic as many non-Covid patients refrained from availing of the services from there, according to insiders.
The experts stressed the need for proper management of the healthcare wastes generated both inside and outside the healthcare establishments for the sake of the public health and environment.
In the capital, PRISM Bangladesh Foundation has been treating the medical wastes since 2006 following an agreement signed with the then Dhaka City Corporation. But medical wastes created outside the healthcare establishments remain out of its collection chain.
Now PRISM continues to remain in the medical waste management following agreements signed with Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC). The agreements are renewed after every six years.
“We collect the biomedical wastes from some 950 healthcare establishments like hospitals, clinics and diagnostic centres, to treat these at the ‘Medical Waste Management Plant in Matuail landfill site,” said Mazharul Islam, Coordinator, Medical Waste Management Programme, PRISM Bangladesh.
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Now PRISM collects over six tonnes of wastes from the capital’s healthcare establishments a day, which was some 10-11 tonnes during pre-Covid-19 period, he said, adding that the collection of medical wastes is on the rise again.
“The PPE-related wastes are mostly generated outside hospitals and clinics. So, the wastes don’t come in our collection chain,” he told UNB.
Following the outbreak of the Covid-19, the DNCC authorities asked the city dwellers to store their used PPEs in polybags to manage these through PRISM. But the amount of such wastes collected from households is very insignificant, said Mazharul Islam.
During Wari lockdown, PRISM also collected medical wastes from the area and treated theses, he said.
The medical wastes are segregated and kept in red, yellow and green bins considering the types of the wastes. Then PRISM collects the wastes by its 11 covered vans.
The Matuail plant was the lone well-equipped medical waste management plant with incinerator till 2018 in the country. Later, three more well-equipped plants were set up in Sylhet, Rangpur and Rajshahi. Besides, there’s a small plant having only an auto-clave in Jashore. All the plants are run by PRISM Bangladesh, he said.
Air Commodore Md Badrul Amin, Chief Waste Management Officer, DSCC said also admitted that it is not possible to segregate the healthcare wastes from household wastes yet. “It’ll take time (to go for treatment of domestic healthcare wastes),” he said.
He said they are yet to get any complaint from PRISM whether it faces any problem or challenge in collection and treatment of medical wastes generated in hospitals and clinics amid the Covid-19 pandemic. “If we receive any complaint, then we’ll take measures accordingly,” said the DSCC official.
Muzaherul Huq, former regional advisor (South East Asia) of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said the healthcare wastes should completely be segregated from other household wastes to manage these separately as it poses a serious threat to public health.
“Domestic healthcare wastes are being mixed with other household wastes, which is very alarming,” he said adding that the government must have a strategy and implement its plan in this regard like many other countries.
Dumping healthcare wastes with other household wastes aggregates the spread of Covid-19 and other virus-led diseases, he said, adding that the government should introduce a functional healthcare waste management across the country.
Dr MA Matin, an environmentalist, said the picture of the country’s medical waste management is gloomy as household healthcare wastes are not managed safely rather dumped with other wastes. Besides, medical wastes generated in hospitals and clinics in some major cities are also not treated properly, he said.
MA Matin, also vice-president of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) said household healthcare wastes are safely managed in many countries. Such wastes are segregated from other household wastes at the sources, he added.