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General News Wed, 25 Jan 2012

Medical waste scandal at 37 Hospital

Investigations by The Globe newspaper have uncovered at the 37 Military Hospital near the Flagstaff House in Accra a massive medical waste scandal, the type of which has led to health authorities losing their jobs in other countries, with others serving severe jail terms for endangering public health.

For more than a year now, highly infectious liquid medical waste from 37 Military Hospital has been flowing freely into Accra’s main gutters, with authorities at the hospital making no attempts to reverse the trend.

Residents who live around the immediate surroundings behind the Hospital— who are at risk of contracting HIV, tuberculosis, and hepatitis and from the liquid medical waste — say they have been getting ill often these days and blamed “the hazardous medical waste from the Hospital”.

The free online dictionary defines medical waste to mean, “Any discarded biologic product such as blood or tissue removed from operating rooms, morgues, laboratories, or other medical facilities. The term may also be applied to bedding, bandages, syringes, and similar materials that have been used in treating patients and to animal carcasses or body parts used in research. Medical waste is regulated at the state and local levels. ” There are different types of medical waste management systems in countries around the world. Even though, medical waste disposal systems are not completely risk-free, the dangers can be drastically reduced with care, using treatment plants.

Experts say improper disposal of medical waste may result in damage to humans by sharp instruments, deadly diseases transmitted to humans by infectious agents, and contamination of the environment by venomous and perilous chemicals.

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International standards therefore require proper management of medical waste to reduce the environmental and public health risk such wastes pose.

But The Globe’s investigations found that the main pipeline that transports liquid medical waste from the 37 Military Hospital got damaged over the year ago during what one insider called “a site clearing exercise by contractors who have been engaged to develop a huge parcel of land lying between the hospital and the only treatment plant serving the facility. ” “Since then, we have not been able to restore the pipeline. What it means is that liquid waste from mortuary, the hospital’s theatres, maternity ward and many more have been moving freely into the capital’s main drains,” an official of the hospital -- who blew the lid on the scandal to this reporter -- said on condition of anonymity.

“In fact Management of the hospital is aware of the problem but they have either pretended not to know or are doing very little or nothing at all to address it,” the source said.

“Again, what this situation means is that people who eat fresh vegetables like garbage, carrots, tomatoes, onions, etc produced along the main drains in Accra using water from those drains are in danger of contracting all kinds of deadly diseases, including HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis. The reason is that the water the vegetable growers use has millions of very deadly gems in there,” another source added. As at the time of going to press, the Public Affairs Unit of the 37 Military Hospital said it was investigating the matter and could therefore not immediately comment. This reporter had previously placed a series of calls and text messages to the unit, but got no response.

This reporter’s investigation revealed that the only treatment plant that serves the hospital is in perfect working condition. However, it has been lying idle for more than a year now. Damage to the pipeline that transports waste water from the hospital to the plant for treatment means the treatment plant can no longer process perilous liquid waste from the hospital before they are released into the nation’s drains.

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When The Globe visited the site, our reporter saw a wide expanse of stagnant water sitting on the large track of land cleared for a major construction project the hospital intends to put up behind the long line of bungalows that house workers and soldiers of the hospital. The water, some of which flow strait into the capital’s main drains, is from the hospital mortuary, theatres and the hospital’s labour wards.

Apart from the liquid waste, The Globe saw other forms of general waste, including used medical gloves, syringes and blood samples blood stained bandages in drains around the area. Alhassan Iddi, 35, an unemployed man from Nima, who regularly scavenges for metal and plastic objects at the site, told The Globe “the problem has persisted for more than a year now. ”

“I am a scrap dealer. I often come here looking for metal and rubber objects discarded by the hospital because I am unemployed,” he told The Globe.

“At times I find objects such as discarded syringes in the drains,” he said, adding “Sometimes you see children running after each other with these needles. On Many occasions, I sacked them from here buy they mostly come back to play with these used syringes”.

Speaking to The Globe, US trained Medical Practitioner and Lecturer, Dr Kwabena Arthur Kennedy, said “if it is true that liquid medical waste from the hospital is being discharged directly into Accra’s drains without treatment, then we have a looming heath disaster”.

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“People are in danger of contracting Hepatitis A, Cholera and other serious diseases because the waste cater we are talking about is loaded with pathogens and disease causing gems and when recycled into the water we drink can be very lethal,” he said.

In September 2011, a human rights investigator for the United Nations said nearly to a quarter of the world's garbage from hospitals, clinics, labs, blood banks and mortuaries is hazardous and called for a lot more international effort to regulate it.

Calin Georgescu, a U. N. special rapporteur, said few countries are developing the rules needed to cope with the growing mountains of medical waste that pose a hidden risk of infection and could expose people to low levels of radioactivity and needle-stick injuries. In a report to the U. N. Human Rights Council, he said nations pay “too little attention” to their tons of waste each year — waste that contains pathogens, blood, low levels of radioactivity, discarded needles, syringes, scalpels, expired drugs and vaccines. In many poorer nations, unwanted chemicals and pharmaceutical wastes go straight to city dumps, down hospital toilets into water systems, or are burned in cement kilns that just add to dioxide emissions.

Advanced countries typically generate some 6 kilograms of hazardous medical wastes per person a year, according to the World Health Organization, whereas lower-income countries make up to 3 kilograms.

According to the WHO millions of cases of hepatitis and tens of thousands of HIV infections could be prevented each year if syringe needles were disposed of safely instead of getting reused without sterilization.

1998 radioactive medical waste killed four people in Brazil in 1988, and similar accidents occurred before then in Algeria, Mexico and Morocco.

Source: The Globe