Cleaning and sterilisation
Iraq hospital waste creates health hazard
Toxic hospital waste being released in residential areas in southern
Iraq is causing a health and environmental hazard in the Basra area,
despite repeated appeals for help to tackle the situation, local sources
in both fields told IRIN News recently.
“The waste usually consists of pharmaceutical, chemical, radioactive,
infectious and other materials that should only be disposed of in
incinerators, which burn the materials at high temperatures,” Hasan
Sahib, an environmental activist, said.
Other sterilisation techniques, such as high-pressure steam treatment,
are increasingly more important than incineration in the safe disposal
of hospital waste in the developed world, but the treatment of
pollutants and toxic waste is regarded as vital everywhere.
Liquid waste is going directly into sewers and rivers, and solid waste
is being burned but not in an incinerator, according to Sahib. Vials,
syringes and substances from intravenous (IV) units, and sometimes even
body parts, are not being disposed of properly, health workers
confirmed. “We do not have waste treatment equipment to treat it before
draining liquid into the sewage systems,” said Dr Ra’ad Salman, general
director of Basra health department.
“We only have old systems which are old fashioned and not sufficient.”
He estimates that Basra hospitals and clinics produce between 15 and 25
metric tonnes of waste daily. “We have asked the US forces and many
other organisations to build medical waste treatment units in Basra,” he
said. “They promised us, but nothing has been done so far.” The doctor
explained that disease and illnesses have already increased by 10% due
to an accumulation of health issues.
“We also suffer from the negligence of employees collecting waste,”
Salman said. “They do not apply the techniques of waste – classifying
and separation in medical bags that are distributed by the health
directorate – although we have now sent some of them abroad to learn
about techniques.” Mohamed Hasan aged 15, a waste collector, has
contracted typhoid, a bacterial infection of the intestines and
occasionally the bloodstream, often associated with poor hygiene
practices that cause the germs to spread through food and water. Hasan
has been hospitalised.
“Many people told me that my job is dangerous but my father died and my
three brothers, my mother and I have to work,” he told IRIN. “We are
obliged to work in this job to earn a living.” When asked if he would
return to the job he said: “Yes, because I do not have any other work.”
Rubbish accumulating in the streets has also led to children scavenging
through the dumped material, looking for items to sell.
The medical waste processing units increasingly being used worldwide are
known as autoclaving machines. Using steam at high pressure to sterilise
objects used in medical operations, they are often used instead of
hospital incinerators. The technique dramatically reduces environmental
pollutants, according to experts, but waste management is still an
Current hospital waste disposal practices in Basra, and the lack of
treatment equipment, fall well shy of acceptable, and pose a
considerable threat to health, according to Dr Salman. “The current
situation will lead to accumulating waste in the hospital and this is
very dangerous,” he said. IRIN News – Integrated Regional Information