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September 13, 2019

Authorities still clueless as medical waste continues to wash ashore

Karachi

September 13, 2019

The health and environment authorities of Sindh are still clueless about the origin of the hazardous hospital waste, including used syringes, drip sets, test tubes containing blood and other body secretions, which has been washing ashore at the Clifton beach since the last week, as visitors claim that the beach is still littered with used syringes and other hazardous hospital waste even after the passage of several days.

“Yesterday night, I took my family to the Sea View and we were walking on the sand when I spotted several used syringes on the beach and some floating in the water. When I looked around thoroughly, I found many other items of hospital waste littering the beach. I immediately told my family that we were leaving as it could be dangerous for us,” Khalid Ahmed, who had visited the beach along with his family, told The News on Thursday.

A huge amount of hospital waste was spotted on Sea View by Shaniera Akram, the wife of test cricketer Wasim Akram, on the morning of September 3 who tweeted the pictures and videos of the beach, compelling Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah to dispatch his environment adviser Murtaza Wahab and the deputy commissioner concerned to the scene, after which the Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC) and the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) used their machinery and claimed that they had lifted all the medical waste from the beach.

However, even after the passage of over a week since the medical waste at the beach was first reported, none of the authorities concerned, be them the city administration or the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) or the Sindh Health Care Commission (SHCC), seem to have any clue as to who released such a large amount of hazardous medical waste into the sea that was still washing ashore despite all efforts by the authorities and social workers to clean the beach and make it safe for the visitors.

“Either this waste has been dumped by some local hospital located near the sea or some large hospital which used a boat to dump a large amount of hospital waste into the sea. Due to high tide, this waste washed ashore and came into the notice of people and authorities,” suggested Sepa Director General Naeem Mughal while talking to The News.

As the environmental watchdog had nothing conclusive to say about the origin of the hospital waste, Mughal said the agency was now going to implement the Sindh Hospital Waste Management Rules 2014 in letter and spirit after the recent incident.

“We have started inspection of the large hospitals in Karachi and we are inspecting their hospital waste management facilities. I don’t know the number of facilities inspected by us so far but we have initiated the process. In the second phase, we are going to issue notices of personal hearing to those facilities which are not disposing of their waste as per the rules,” Mughal said, adding that Sepa was also planning to invite managements of all the major hospitals at a joint meeting and raise the issue with them.

Meanwhile, the SHCC, which became active recently after the HIV outbreak in the Ratodero area of Larkana and started taking action against healthcare establishments disposing of their medical waste improperly, was also unaware of the origin of the medical waste that had been dumped into the sea.

“Waste, including hospital waste, has become a political issue in Karachi at this moment. We can’t comment on that. The issue of hospital waste at Sea View was dealt with by the deputy commissioner concerned and you should approach him for further details,” an official of the SHCC told The News.

The official, who requested anonymity, said they were going to hold two meetings in Karachi and Larkana by the end of this month to discuss proper disposal of medical waste in both these cities as they had very high risk of another outbreak of infectious diseases.

In the meantime, hazardous medical waste, including syringes containing blood carrying deadly viral and bacterial diseases, bags and tubes filled with body secretions, amputated body parts and other infectious solid and liquid waste continue to be thrown on the streets, nullahs and garbage dumps of the city and even in the sea as none of the regulatory bodies seem to be ready to play their role to stop the deadly practice.

“Sea View was the only place for me to take my family to for recreation despite the usual filth and sewage mixed water of the sea. It is now become unsafe due to presence of hazardous waste littering the beach. Day by day, this city is becoming unlivable for its dwellers due to apathy of our rulers and managers,” Khalid lamented, saying that the only choice left for them was to take the children to some eatery and get back home.