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September 4, 2019

Hospital waste on Clifton beach rings alarm bells for citizens, authorities


September 4, 2019

Hundreds of used syringes, needles, test tubes containing blood samples and other hospital waste washed ashore on the Clifton beach on Tuesday morning, compelling the police to close down the beach for visitors by imposing Section 144 after Shaniera Akram, wife of legendary cricketer Wasim Akram, posted several videos of the hospital waste on social media.

Officials of the Sindh health and environment departments as well as city administration and cantonment board officials rushed to the beach after the pictures and videos of the hospital waste went viral and local TV channels started airing the news. Tractors and dumpers were used to clean the beach of hazardous waste.

“I have found over 4 dozen open syringes in the last 10 minutes. This is a biohazard and our beach needs to be closed down until the proper authorities can guarantee the people of Karachi are safe. This has gone on long enough, peoples’ lives are at risk,” Shaniera Akram said in her first tweet on Tuesday morning, adding: “I have walked on Clifton beach everyday for the last 4 years and I have never been scared until today. This beach needs to be shut down now.”

As news of hospital waste, including open, used syringes, spread through the electronic and digital media, the Sindh health minister dispatched the deputy commissioner West to visit the beach immediately. On the directives from Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, the resort was closed by the police so that beach-cleaning could be started.

The authorities in Sindh are still trying to contain and HIV outbreak among children in the Ratodero area of Larkana, where over 1,000 people, including 830 children, have tested positive for the blood-borne disease which international experts have blamed on reuse of syringes and poor infection control practices at hospitals and health facilities in the province.

Initial inquiry

Health and environmental department officials who investigated the incident after the hue and cry on social and electronic media suspected that staff of the either two of tertiary-care hospitals near the Clifton beach could be responsible for the environmental hazard, which, instead of disposing of the waste properly, threw it into the sea, which washed ashore on Tuesday morning and created health hazards.

“There are two tertiary-care hospitals near Clifton and most likely it could be their staff responsible for dumping the hospital waste in the sea, which washed ashore on Tuesday morning,” an official of the Sindh health department said on condition of anonymity.

But some other officials of the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) opined that rainwater entering the sea through two rivers, Lyari and Malir, and several drains could have brought the hospital waste to the sea, which could have washed ashore on Tuesday morning.

They claimed that the hospital waste was not from any public hospital in Karachi as the syringes and other material found on the beach were not used by the public hospitals. They added that they had launched an investigation to reach the culprits.

Adviser visits beach

The newly appointed adviser for environment, Murtaza Wahab, along with Environment Secretary Khan Muhammad Mahar visited the Clifton beach on the directives from the CM and inspected the beach-cleaning activity.

Talking to media on the occasion, he said that although the hospital waste was “not in a huge quantity” as “only a few syringes” were found on the beach, it created a very bad impression and embarrassment for the authorities and the concerned departments.

“Responding to this incident, we have decided to look into the hospital waste management initially in Karachi and I have directed the secretary environment to write letters to all public and private hospitals to explain methods and mechanism of their hospital waste management,” Wahab said.

Thanking people for pointing out the presence of syringes on the beach, he said all the waste was lifted within a couple of hours. He added that all stakeholders, including the federal government, should support and cooperate with the Sindh government in the disposal of solid and liquid waste in Karachi.

There is kilometres of medical waste including hundreds of open needle syringes amongst other things, that has come in from the ocean. Clifton beach, at this moment, is extremely dangerous and needs to be shut down

Tweets Shaniera Akram