Health institutions, quarantine centres violating COVID waste mgmt guidelines

No separate collection, transportation of infectious material

*Training to handlers, occupational safety out of focus

Mohinder Verma
JAMMU, Sept 16: Shocking it may sound but it is a fact that health institutions and quarantine centres in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir are not strictly adhering to the guidelines for handling and disposal of waste being generated during the treatment and quarantine of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) patients.
Moreover, neither separate dedicated workers for handling of COVID-19 waste have been deployed nor proper training on do’s and don’ts have been provided to the general handlers as a result of which occupational safety has remained out of the focus in majority of quarantine and treatment institutions.
On the instructions of the Union Government, the Central Pollution Control Board on July 21, 2020 issued revised guidelines for handling, treatment and disposal of waste being generated during the treatment, diagnosis and quarantine of COVID-19 patients.
Accordingly, all the health institutions, isolation wards, quarantine centres, sample collection centres, laboratories, Urban Local Bodies and common biomedical waste treatment and disposal facilities in addition to existing practices under Bio Medical Waste Management Rules, 2016 were asked to strict follow the same.
These revised guidelines were issued to provide guidance on segregation of general solid waste and bio-medical waste from quarantine centres and healthcare facilities treating COVID-19 patients and to recommend on disposal of Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs).
However, these guidelines are not being strictly adhered to by majority of the healthcare facilities, isolation and quarantine centres in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, reliable sources in the Pollution Control Board told EXECLSIOR, adding “there is hardly any point of the guidelines which is being followed in letter and spirit by the concerned authorities and inept handling of COVID-19 waste carries the risk of posing grave danger to the lives of the people, normal visitors to the health institutions as well as to the staff”.
“The non-serious approach towards guidelines is notwithstanding the fact that around 1000 kilograms of COVID-19 waste is being generated every day in the health institutions in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir”, they further said, adding “while solid waste is being sent to common treatment facility (Samba in Jammu and Pampore in Kashmir) for scientific disposal, the liquid waste is getting directly discharged in the common drains and in the absence of effluent treatment plants ultimately going into River Tawi”.
As per the reports available with EXCELSIOR, separate colour coded bins with foot operated lids have not been provided in the isolation wards in several health institutions treating COVID-19 patients and quarantine centres. Even highly infectious waste is not being collected and stored separately before transportation to the common treatment facility centre for final disposal, which otherwise has been given immense importance in the guidelines.
Contrary to the guidelines, separate labelling as “COVID-19 waste” is not being done properly despite the fact that this practice is imperative to enable the common treatment facility to identify the waste easily for priority treatment and disposal immediately upon the receipt.
“The Pollution Control Board has come across a number of incidents wherein COVID-19 waste was found mixed with the general biomedical waste and accordingly the concerned authorities were sounded on this aspect”, sources said, adding “even the COVID-19 waste is being transported to the common treatment facility along with the general bio-medical waste in blatant violation of the guidelines issued by the Central Pollution Control Board”.
No doubt details of COVID-19 biomedical waste generation is being regularly reported on the mobile application of Central Pollution Control Board but there is absolutely no focus on deputing dedicated sanitation workers separately for COVID-19 waste and general solid waste as a result of which there is no timely collection and transportation to temporary waste storage area, sources informed.
They further said, even proper training to waste handlers about infection prevention measures such as hand hygiene and respiratory etiquettes etc have not been provided by the concerned authorities as a result of which occupational safety has remained out of focus.
They stressed that Health and Medical Education Department should constitute different teams to conduct surprise inspection of the health institutions and quarantine centres to check the compliance to the guidelines of the Central Pollution Control Board otherwise inept handling of COVID-19 waste is fraught with the danger of risking large number of lives.