Bio-waste dumped near Rohingya refugee camp, children affected

New Delhi, July 9 (IANS) Children of Rohingya Muslims, one of the world’s most persecuted communities who have been living on the outskirts of Delhi for some three years, are falling prey to diseases, including lung infections and severe skin allergies, due to bio-medical waste being dumped by two prominent hospitals in front of their camp, enquiries by IANS have revealed. Typically, no one wants to take the responsibility for this.

Dwellers at the Madanpur Khadar camp in south Delhi claimed that discarded bandages, syringes and other bio-waste is dumped by Safdarjung Hospital and Indraprastha Apollo hospital near their camp. However, the two hospitals have stated that they cannot be held responsible as it was not their responsibility, but that of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), to monitor where the hospital waste is dumped.

Karan Thakur, a spokesperson for Indraprastha Apollo, told IANS: “We follow the law and get the bio-medical waste dumped through the vendors. But I cannot say where is it being dumped. In case it is not being dumped properly, then it is the mistake of the DPCC and not ours.”

Safdarjung Hospital medical superintendent Rajpal told IANS that the hospital did not have any role in the dumping of bio-medical waste generated as the Directorate of Health Services (DHS) and the DPCC looked after the entire operation.

A senior DPCC official, who did not wish to be named, told IANS: “We hire agencies for collecting the bio-medical waste from hospitals and dumping it properly, but Safdarjung and a few other hospitals have hired their own agencies to take care of the bio-medical waste generated from there. In such situations, the medical superintendent and the heads of such hospitals are responsible and not the DPCC.”

There were high chances of norms being violated as such cases have been reported in the past as well, but things were brought under control after official action, he added.

Sunil Bhatnagar, additional secretary, Directorate of Health Services (DHS), agreed.

“Although violation by big hospitals like Safdarjung and even AIIMS is not unusual, mostly the norms are violated by small hospitals and nursing homes that do not even have proper tie-ups with the vendors for dumping the waste,” Bhatnagar told IANS.

He said that the number of such hospitals was so large that it was difficult for DPCC or the DHS to monitor the process on their own.

The toxic waste being dumped has claimed the life of three infants till now, the Madanpur Khadar dwellers say.

Often the children end up playing with discarded saline tubes, blood packs and used syringes trying to make up for the absence of toys.

“For the past four months vans carrying the bio-medical waste from hospitals have started dumping it right in front of our shacks. Although adults understand what it is, it’s very difficult to make the children understand, who go and play with it. This is the cause behind the occurrence of several forms of diseases in them,” Mohammad Salim, the 28-year-old head of the refugee camp, told IANS.

Stating that three infants had died after contracting a skin disease caused by the bio-medical waste, Salim added that the community tried to build a boundary wall demarcating their shacks from the dumping site but it was broken by the people coming to dump the waste who also issued strict warnings against doing so.

When this IANS correspondent visited the site, most of children in the camp were found with several forms of skin infections, chemical burns and even blisters on their faces and bodies. Their parents claimed the skin diseases were caused by contact with bio-medical waste.

Rasna Begum, the mother of a two-year-old who died in May, said that since the waste was not properly disposed of in bags, syringes, blood soaked plasters, bandages with human tissue were scattered in the entire area.

“I did not understand what my little son died of. Before I could stop him from playing with the syringes, used hand gloves and all, he had already contracted a serious skin infection. Before he died his entire body became red and full of blisters,” Rasna Begum told IANS.

Recently nine hospitals, including the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Safdarjung Hospital, were issued notice by the National Green Tribunal for violation of rules laid down for safe disposal of highly infectious bio medical waste.

This correspondent spotted some vans that had dumped bio-medical waste in the area. Asked about the hospitals the waste was from, the drivers said it was from Safdarjung Hospital and Indraprastha Apollo Hospital.

Informed about the incident by IANS, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Sripad Yesso Naik said: “I do not exactly know if hospitals are committing such a blunder. It’s simply intolerable. I will immediately send officials from the health ministry to check if this is happening. Strict action will be taken against the medical superintendents and senior officials for such norm violation.”

The 315 Rohingya Muslims – who have been staying in dilapidated huts made out of thatch, tarpaulin and plastic sheets – are among an estimated 10 million stateless people worldwide.

India, despite hosting some 30,000 registered refugees, has no legal recognition of asylum seekers, making it difficult for them to use essential services.

Although the minorities have lived for generations in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, they had to flee the country after hostilities broke out between the Buddhists and the Rohingyas in 2012 leading to the death of more than 100 people. Over 100,000 Rohingyas have since then fled to countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, India and Bangladesh.

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