The government is yet to ensure a safe management of the COVID-19 wastes in Bangladesh, increasing infection risks and environmental hazards in the highly-infected Dhaka and other cities and towns across the country.
Experts feared that the COVID-19 situation might worsen due to the poor management of the waste even after putting in force lockdowns or other measures in absence of the safe disposal of materials like masks and gloves.
They said that although the waste was generated at the community level at houses but it should be treated as medical waste rather than kitchen or household waste.
Dhaka North City Corporation chief waste management officer Commodore M Saidur Rahman on Sunday told New Age that they were going to launch separate management of such wastes from Tuesday.
‘We have planned a massive public awareness campaign, training for our waste collectors and safe disposal of the wastes,’ he said.
He said that the DNCC asked PRISM, a non-government organisation managing city medical wastes, to dispose of the medical waste generated at the community level.
Public health experts said that the COVID-19 waste might be a source of coronavirus infection if they were not managed safely as the virus stays alive for several days on objects.
Noted virologist and former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Nazrul Islam said that all the measures, including quarantining, isolation and lockdowns, to control the spread of the disease would go in vain if COVID-19 wastes were not managed safely.
‘COVID-19 waste is a confirmed source of the coronavirus infection and it can infect others at any stage,’ he said.
‘Domestic COVID-19 waste will be a source of COVID-19 transmission if they are not managed safely,’ said Professor Dr Shah Monir Hossain, one of the eight divisional advisors on COVID-19 to the government.
Shah Monir, also a former director general of the health directorate said that a guideline for COVID-19 waste management was needed immediately and that should be prepared under the leadership of local government agencies like city corporations or municipalities.
During visits by New Age, it was seen that groups of unprotected children were collecting waste from houses at Mohammadpur, Wari, Dhanmondi in the capital —all declared red zones for COVID-19 infection.
Most of the waste collectors were unmasked, without goggles and had no protection against COVID-19 transmission.
They were engaged in transporting the hazardous waste in the traditional unsafe manner in which they collect and carry general kitchen wastes without any health safety measures.
But, public health experts asserted, the waste is not mere municipal waste, rather it is hazardous medical waste and should be managed the way the risky medical waste is managed.
The DNCC has planned to start distributing bags and an awareness campaign on the safety issues in Razabazar, the only locked down area declared in the city, for a safe disposal of the COVID-19 waste.
The DNCC would distribute three lakh bags and 10,000 leaflets and other forms of publicity materials for creating public awareness.
Although the government has made the use of mask mandatory in the fight against COVID-19 but there was no management of the resulting huge COVID-19 waste littering the drains, roads and other open spaces.
Dhaka South City Corporation’s additional chief waste management officer Mohamamd Mizanur Rahman admitted that the DSCC was yet to start separate COVID-19 waste management, saying that they would start one soon.
He said that they would start collecting the waste separately and dispose of them with other medical waste in cooperation with PRISM.
In May, an NGO named Environment and Social Development Organisation reported that the COVID-19 pandemic was creating a single-use plastic waste crisis as over 14,500 tonnes of plastic waste were generated monthly across the country.
ESDO general secretary Shahriar Hossain said that the waste volume was gradually increasing as the infection was spreading in more and more areas over time.
‘The waste not only creates health hazards but affects the environment too,’ he said.
He assumed that the quantity of such waste must be double now.
A number of municipal mayors in different districts told New Age that they couldn’t develop any mechanism for COVID-19 waste management but the hospitals were dumping the waste in a haphazard manner.
AH Maqsood Sinha, executive director of Waste Concern, said that the installation of incineration and autoclave machines, as a solution, was a time and money consuming affair.
On an ad-hoc basis, the municipalities could collect the waste carefully and put these under earth scientifically, he said.
Physicians said that if the waste collectors got in touch with COVID-19 waste they would infect their families and communities.
Bangladesh tested more than 1,12,000 COVID-19 positive patients and recorded 1,464 deaths from the infection till Sunday as the virus infection was soaring in Dhaka and elsewhere across the country.
Waste management specialists said that the government should reduce the COVID-19 waste volume and treat them carefully after their safe collection and transportation.
They further suggested that the government should provide coloured bags to carry COVID-19 wastes while the use of alternative- and multi-use masks might reduce the waste volume.
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