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Last Updated: Friday, 10 October, 2003, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
UN tackles Dhaka's medical waste
By Alastair Lawson
BBC correspondent in Dhaka

Worker recycling hospital waste in Dhaka
Recyclers ensure the waste is not used again medically
The United Nations begins a new scheme in Bangladesh's capital Dhaka this weekend to stop large amounts of hospital waste being routinely dumped on the streets.

Much of the waste - syringes, needles, saline drips, discarded food, gauze and vials - is collected by women and children who re-sell it despite the deadly health risks.

There are more than 600 clinics and hospitals in the city, producing an estimated 200 tons of waste a day.

Only a few have the necessary facilities to dispose of it safely.

There are even reports of body parts being dumped on the streets because some hospitals do not have disposal facilities.

Bare hands

One residential area in Dhaka that has a number of clinics and suffers badly is Dhanmondi.

Here, the poor salvage saline bottles and bags from the pavement where they have been indiscriminately dumped by hospitals.

Tanzina Haque Hossain works for the United Nations and is at the forefront of the battle to stop hospital waste from being dumped.

She says that items such as discarded saline drips with blood still left in them are a health hazard to everyone.

Hospital waste on the streets of Dhaka
Many hospitals have no disposal facilities

Street children and women are especially vulnerable because they go through the waste with their bare hands in the hope of finding needles, syringes and other equipment they can re-sell.

"They don't have any protective gear and supposing a contaminated needle pricks them they could be contaminated with something as dangerous as HIV or hepatitis B," she says. "It's a massive health hazard."

Kadi Dawan, a 45-year-old single mother, earns around half a dollar a day going through the waste.

She says she does not believe it is dangerous, but also adds that there is no alternative.

Long process

But there is now.

Under a new scheme financed by the UN Development Programme and its local partners, hospital waste will be collected in a specially designed rickshaw and taken off to a recycling plant.

Here workers wearing protective clothing break it down and recycle it.

But unlike waste collected from the streets to be re-sold, none here is recycled for medical use.

Dr Mahmudur Rahman, of the Initiative for Peoples' Development, the local partners funded by the UNDP, says the system is much safer, although not completely so.

He says he hopes it is only part of a long process that will transform Dhaka's waste disposal system.

The responsibility for ensuring waste is not dumped should lie with the hospitals and city authority.

But most hospitals and clinics say they do not have the resources to dispose of it safely, while the city council says it is so cash-strapped it cannot even pay for its existing commitments, let alone take on new ones.

It seems the UN has been left to handle the dangers.


SEE ALSO:
Dhaka 'winning' waste disposal battle
30 Oct 02  |  South Asia
Conjoined baby home after Dhaka op
17 Sep 03  |  South Asia
Country profile: Bangladesh
15 Jul 03  |  Country profiles


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