Regional News

‘Medical waste may act as a vehicle in an AIDS-affected area’

KARACHI: Director General, Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), Naeem Ahmad Mughal, presided over an environmental review session for the installation and operation of four incinerators for the disposal of medical waste in an environmentally friendly manner in various hospitals of Larkana district.

In the meeting of experts after examining the environmental impact of the four incinerators, it was decided that environmental approval for their installation and operation would be given in due course of time, keeping in view of the public opinions taken earlier on them.

It is to be noted that the Sindh Government is taking all-out measures to prevent the further spread of AIDS in Larkana, which was spreading on a limited scale over there in the recent past. Safe disposal of hospital waste eliminates the risk of the spread of any infectious diseases, including AIDS; therefore, the plan for the installation and operation of subject incinerators in various hospitals of the referred district is being speedily examined to assess their environmental implications.

With the financial support of the World Health Organization and the managerial supervision of the Department of Health, Government of Sindh, one incinerator with the capacity of 50 kg per hour of medical waste will be installed at Sheikh Zayed Women’s Hospital, Larkana, while one each of the capacity of 20 kg of waste per hour will be installed at Taluka Hospital Rato Dero and Rural Hospital Nodero. In addition, the place of the installation of the fourth incinerator with a capacity of 10 kg of medical waste per hour will be decided by the Health Department.

Barrister Murtaza Wahab, Spokesperson to the Government of Sindh and Advisor to the Chief Minister on Law, Environment, Climate Change, and Coastal Development, has already directed SEPA to conduct an environmental review of all such projects directly related to the public interest on a priority basis. They should be approved without delay while fulfilling their necessary environmental requirements.

It may be recalled that in the recent past, several cases of AIDS were reported in Larkana. Out of 30,000 tests conducted between April and June last year, AIDS was found in 876 people, of whom 82% were children under 15 years of age. There were guesstimates that the spread of AIDS in the city could also be due to unsafe medical practices, including the reuse of used syringes and drips for treatment, as well as the presence of the quacks (unauthorized medical practitioners) in the area.

During the expert review meeting, DG SEPA Naeem Ahmad Mughal asked various questions from the WHO and Health Department representatives regarding the installation of the incinerators and their subsequent operations in the context of their environmental safety. Dr Sara Salman, WHO head in Sindh, told the meeting that her organization was working with the Health Department Sindh to prevent the spread of AIDS in Larkana and to improve the healthcare system in hospitals, especially to ensure safe disposal of medical waste. The WHO is also financing the medical waste disposal machines, and in this regard, an agreement has been signed with a company called Madeline Technologies for the installation of the said machines in all three hospitals in the Larkana district.

During the meeting, the issues related to the amount of smoke coming out of the chimneys of these incinerators once they are installed and possible side effects while disposing of medical waste, the method of disposal of incinerated waste’s ash, provision of the necessary training to their handlers and operators and temporary storage of the waste before disposal were critically examined. Subsequently, DG SEPA urged the WHO to continue administrative oversight and financial support for the supply, installation, and subsequent operation of the machines beyond their three-year contract period. He also assured that SEPA would provide all possible assistance in environmental matters till the completion of the projects.

It should be noted that under Section 17 of the Sindh Environmental Protection Act 2014, all development projects implemented in Sindh, including the construction of buildings and installation of machines, must be approved by SEPA after conducting their environmental impact assessment (EIA). On receiving the comments/opinions of stakeholders through public hearings and media, a committee of experts constituted by SEPA, after a detailed environmental review of the project under consideration, decides whether to give it final approval or refer back for necessary alterations.

-MN Report

November 20, 2020

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