How we dispose of medical waste at Sambhavna

How we deal with and dispose of our waste here at Sambhavna is very important to us. We take the utmost care in reviewing our reusing, recycling and disposal systems regularly. (Medical waste refers here to all waste generated, discarded and not intended for further use.)

Standard hospital categories of medical waste include: General Waste, Infectious Waste, Pathological Waste, Sharps, Pharmaceutical Waste, Chemical Waste and Radioactive Waste.

Here at Sambhavna, surgery is not available, so the generation of pathological waste is minimal. Moreover, there is no radioactive waste present and only a small amount of chemical waste. We have a rotating system of staff responsible for disposing of our waste. These people are Jamila, Nandu and Chandrakantra. As of December 2010, Jamila is on duty and will be until the end of the year.

Jamila (left) explains how medical waste at Sambhavna is disposed of:

“Most of the waste comes from the pathology lab, doctors’ consulting rooms (especially from allopathic doctors) and the medicine dispensary. Waste such as syringes, cotton swabs, gloves and needles are the most common wastes at the clinic. Test tubes, beakers, glass slides and used petri plates are only considered waste if broken or not reusable.

“When the pathology lab and its apparatus are cleaned, safety gear, such as gloves and masks, are a must. Precautions are maintained during and after the cleaning process by washing hands and using sprit swabs for sterlising hands. When we clean culture plates we always cover our mouths with masks.

“All waste is sorted into respective bins for proper disposal. If wastes aren’t disposed of properly, infection will occur. Cotton swabs are sterilised by a solar apparatus, which works with sunlight and electricity. Syringe needles, used for vaccines, are incinerated (left). Glass materials such as bottles (for massage oils, liquid medicines, syrups and urine samples), test tubes, beakers and glass slides to be reused are first washed with boiled water using a brush and then dried using an autoclave (below). Petri plates are suspended in formalin for one to two days, and then undergo the same process as sterilisation of glass materials. Waste from our bins is then handled by municipal vehicles or sold to dealers. Other waste, such as cardboard is used in neem “agarbattis” which we make to repel mosquitoes and in the garden to prevent erosion.”

Jamila then raised the question of how medical waste is further disposed of and how it’s a serious threat to the health of communities all over the world.

“There are no systematic approaches to medical waste disposal. Hospital wastes are simply mixed with municipal waste in collecting bins and disposed of similarly. Some waste is simply buried without any appropriate measures. Incineration is the other method of disposal and improper incineration of medical waste is very hazardous for us as well as the environment.”

The unnecessary incineration of medical waste is a leading source of dioxin and mercury pollution. Dioxin is the common name for a class of 75 chemicals. It’s a known human carcinogen and has been linked to birth defects, decreased fertility, immune system suppression and other hormonal dysfunction. Mercury can interfere with the development of the fetal brain and is directly toxic to the central nervous system, kidneys and liver.

At Sambhavna we believe in broadening our options and emphasise the use of non-toxic, recyclable, and reusable materials and methods for proper and safe disposal of medical waste.

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We believe Dow & DuPont must finally accept responsibility for Bhopal. Until then, The Bhopal Medical Appeal funds two award-winning clinics in the city. Both offer free, first-class care to victims of the gas disaster or the ongoing water contamination. The survivors have nowhere else left to turn – please help if you can.