Covid has not only exposed the fragility of our healthcare structure but also raised concerns over our unplanned waste disposal system
Covid-19 had a tremendous impact on human life and environment, setting off two opposing consequences - one is the environment, which has substantially improved, and the other is the loss of life, which has been devastating.
Carbon emission has drastically fallen; air and water pollution eased, acoustic hazards have come down.
Dhaka city, usually towards the bottom in world ranking on all such parameters, is now breathing with some positive gains such as improving air, sound, traffic etc.
According to a report published couple of weeks back about the air quality index (AQI), Dhaka city is now at the 'moderate' level with a score of 73 in terms of air quality.
Because of vehicle restrictions and industrial inactivity, the quality of air has now come at an endurable level.
The status of liveability has slightly improved. A paradoxically good side to this pandemic.
Conversely, for the first time in living memory, people of the world are now at the most timorous and imperilled state, struck by Covid-19's fangs.
This is simply incredible that in spite of having unbelievably advanced technology in all spheres of life and the marvellous advances in medical science, people are dying in hoards.
Health management has once again proven to be the weightiest issue of all. The veil over the fragility of our heath structure has been lifted.
There are multifaceted issues regarding health management, and medical waste is an important one.
The dumping of medical waste at random during this current medical emergency is a serious concern.
The disposal of infectious medical waste from hospital and households is now posing serious threat to public health. Usually, medical wastes are disposed in different ways such as sanitary landfills, medical autoclaves, and medical incinerators.
At present, medical wastes have increased manifolds. During Covid outbreak in Wuhan at the Hubei province in China, medical wastes increased by 600 percent, that amounted to 40 tons per day.
The case is grimmer in USA, Italy, France and UK. In almost all countries in the world, additional medical wastes are being produced.
Manila alone produced 17 thousand tons of additional medical waste in 60 days and Jakarta generated 13 thousands. We have no such recent data about medical waste production in Bangladesh yet.
During this medical crisis, large quantities of medical scraps are produced, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), facial tissue, oxygen mask, hand gloves, face shield, goggles, gauze pieces, saline bags, disposable syringes, needles and clothes related to patients.
Almost all these equipment are for one-time use, so the quantities have been on the rise.
These wastes are normally collected by NGO workers and sanitation workers from different hospitals and clinics in an open drum.
Strangely, workers do not have sufficient idea about the contamination, particularly how easily Covid-19 can spread from one body to another.
In fact, some hospitals are dumping the waste in their backyard trash and some others are burning them.
The sanitation workers' heath comes under serious threat owing to such poor disposal practices.
These wastes are transported by small vans and garbage-trucks and taken to Matuail Landfill near Uttara, not very far from the Kuwait Bangladesh Friendship Government Hospital.
When the garbage vans are engaged in transportation, some of the scraps often fall on to the streets.
Asian Development Bank (ADB) very recently issued a guideline about infectious waste management for all countries.
The cleaners who are directly involved in the collection of waste from the sources must be careful and skilled. Safe transportation, trained drivers, safe routes, and safe disposal system are highly required.
ADB's instruction contains four important steps :
- sterilisation through steam (autoclave) or irradiation prior to disposal in a licensed landfill;
- disposal through incineration on-site or at a remote specialised facility,
- mobile incineration or autoclave units may be used to support the existing infectious medical waste infrastructure,
- as a temporary measure, secure facilities can be used as temporary storage in anticipation of additional emergency resources becoming available in the medium term.
In Bangladesh, only 15 percent of the total waste generated are recycled, which amounts to 475 tons per day, where one lakh and twenty thousand poor workers are involved, of which more than eighty per cent are children.
They don't have knowledge about the environment and its risks.
According to medical science, some effects of the chemicals from wastes on human health include cancer, liver damage, kidney failure, tumours, impotency, behavioural change, and eccentricity.
These toxic chemicals have a long term and short term effect, not only on the workers themselves in the factory, but also on the people around us. The invisible dust of the plastic objects is inhaled by people, which is more dangerous than visible toxic substances.
People don't have adequate knowledge about the danger they usually create by dumping electrical and electronics and plastic scraps.
A study, conducted few years back on 200 households in 90 wards of Dhaka city disclosed that not more than 17 percent of the respondents have a clear idea about the toxic substances used in electronic and electrical goods and its impact on the environment and ecology.
And, those who claimed knowledge about the toxicity of electronic disposal actually have poor understanding.
The City Corporation and municipalities are the principal stakeholders of waste management but people's consciousness is necessary to maintain a healthy atmosphere.
The writer is a Professor, Dept. of Philosophy, Jagannath University, Dhaka, Bangladesh.