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Friday, Oct 16, 2020 11:30 [IST]

Last Update: Friday, Oct 16, 2020 06:02 [IST]

Adding on to the pandemic burden

Few lessons have been learnt from our experience with the pandemic. The continued dangerous and unscientific disposal of biomedical waste is a case in point. At a time when hospital-acquired infections are at an all-time high and extremely high standards of hygiene and sanitation are required to keep Covid-19 at bay, reckless disposal of medical waste by contractors across the country is a reason for alarm.

The failure of authorities to deploy an efficient strategy to combat this menace is also a matter of concern. Union Minister Babul Supriyo recently informed LokSabha that in the last two years, 126 public complaints were received about illegal medical waste disposal from across the country. While the minister said that action was taken in many of these cases, experts point out that reporting of illegal disposal itself is poor. The situation has just become worse with the onset of the pandemic.

Since April, India has been manufacturing an average of 4.5 lakh PPE suits every day, the Centre said. While these suits have helped contain the spread of the pandemic in a big way, they are now posing an immense risk to the ecosystem. Made primarily out of single-use plastic, the necessity for these suits has reversed all the ground gained by banning such plastic products in parts of the country.

India generated 18,006 tonnes of Covid-19 biomedical waste in the last four months, with Maharashtra contributing the maximum (3,587 tonnes) to it, as per the data from Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). Covid-19 biomedical waste could include PPE kits, masks, shoe covers, gloves, human tissues, items contaminated with blood, body fluids like dressings, plaster casts, cotton swabs, beddings contaminated with blood or body fluid, blood bags, needles, syringes etc. Around 5,500 tonnes of Covid-19 waste was generated across the country in September – the maximum for a month so far.

The CPCB had in March issued specific guidelines for handling, treatment and disposal of such waste at healthcare facilities, quarantine centres, homes, sample collection centers, laboratories, pollution control boards, urban local bodies and common biomedical waste treatment facilities (CBMWTFs). The apex pollution body had in May developed the “COVID19 BWM” mobile application to monitor coronavirus-related biomedical waste and to compile the data through electronic manifest system.

While most hospitals and authorities have taken extreme caution to ensure that Covid-related medical waste is scientifically disposed, the flip side is that the disposal of non-Covid medical waste now gets ignored. The country does not have adequate facilities to treat medical waste and the burden has increased dramatically due to the pandemic.

In short, Covid-19 has exacerbated plastic pollution across the globe and the lack of adequate infrastructure to deal with it is resulting in a medical waste-induced public health crisis in India. It is high time that policymakers focus on the fag end of the Covid chain—the waste management requirements. New infrastructure, trained manpower and sustainable solutions are needed to avoid a crisis that could be bigger than the pandemic.

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi