VietNamNet Bridge – The treatment and disposal of medical waste has become a serious problem in the southern city of Can Tho.
Can Tho General Hospital incinerates medical waste. Only eight out of 22 hospitals in the city have solid medical waste treatment furnaces on their premises. (Photo: VNS)
The healthcare system suffers from a plethora of problems in this regard. It lacks medical waste treatment facilities and existing ones use outdated technology.
Therefore, the few facilities that are running are overloaded with waste from the city's hospitals, polluting the environment and badly affecting many people's livelihoods.
Most hospitals in the city do not have their own waste treatment systems, according to a Can Tho health department official.
Of the 22 hospitals in Can Tho, only eight had solid medical waste treatment furnaces on their premises, and these were all small-scale, said Doan Anh Luan, head of the department's Healthcare Specialisation Office.
All the remaining hospitals and hundreds of private medical and healthcare centres had their medical waste dumped and incinerated like ordinary waste.
About one tonne of toxic medical waste is discharged every day by healthcare centres in the city's urban districts alone, according to the Can Tho City Health Department.
An estimated 2.24 tonnes of medical waste are collected every day in the entire city, of which toxic wastes make up 25 per cent.
The treatment of toxic medical waste differs very much from that of the ordinary medical waste that can be burnt or treated like any other kind of normal waste generated by households, according to Luan.
The hazardous medical waste is classified into different types according to their origin, nature and category, including infectious and radioactive, before being transported to the collection venue if they are not treated on the spot.
The transportation, and the whole process of treating this kind of waste must meet requirements set by the Ministry of Health, and they can only be treated by centres granted with permission by the ministry.
All the medical waste from the city's hospitals used to be treated at the Can Tho General Hospital's waste treatment facility, hospital director Dang Quang Tam told the Sai Gon Giai Phong (Liberated Sai Gon) newspaper.
However, the treatment furnace, with outdated technology and limited capacity, could not meet the increasing quantity it was receiving from the hospitals. It storage space was overloaded and began polluting the surrounding environment, Tam said.
The Can Tho General Hospital was fined by city authorities for violating environment protection rules and its waste treatment centre has been closed since early last month for upgrading.
The hospitals then signed contracts with the Sao Viet Environment Joint Stock Company, based in the southern coastal province of Vung Tau, to have their waste collected and treated.
There was no large-scale medical waste treatment centre in Can Tho and the city's neighbouring provinces, said Luan, explaining the decision.
It costs Can Tho hospitals VND25,000 to have 1kg of medical waste treated, double what they paid the Can Tho General Hospital, he said, but they had no choice.
Storing a problem
But after almost three weeks of treating the medical waste from Can Tho's hospitals, the Sao Viet Company terminated the contracts because its sub-contractor in Can Tho was caught stocking toxic medical solid waste.
In a surprise check carried out on the storage facility of the Tay Nam Environment Company Ltd, Sao Viet's affiliate in Can Tho, city inspectors on July 19 found nearly two tonnes of medical waste including cylinders, needles and swabs.
The search, carried out following people's complaints, also unearthed boxes and packages of rotten and stinking body organs.
The Sao Viet Company said that to reduce their transport costs, it stored the medical waste to 4-5 tonnes in their stockhouse which did not meet the storage standard. The waste polluted the environment and affected the livelihoods of people living around that area, according to the Can Tho Public Security's Environmental Police Office.
The city's Police Department has requested its head to hand down the heaviest punishment on Sao Viet's violation.
Following the termination of contracts with Sao Viet, the hospitals in Can Tho have seen their medical solid waste pile up. The Can Tho General Hospital leads the pack with between 200-300kg per day.
The hospital's waste storage facilities have been overloaded and the ensuing spillage into open spaces has polluted the surrounding environment since the Sao Viet's operation was suspended, according to the hospital's deputy director, Le Van Dat.
Some of the waste has been transported, although not by permitted vehicles, to another hospital in the city's Thot Not District for treatment, said Dat. "We do not know where else we can take the medical waste for treatment."
It is estimated that the hospitals in Can Tho urban region have to spend VND750 million (US$36,400) a month on waste treatment. To establish a medical waste treatment facility (furnace) with advanced Japanese technology that has a capacity of 50kg per hour, it would costs the hospitals around VND1 billion.
Building a central furnace for treating medical waste is the best solution to the problem that should be implemented urgently, said head of the Environmental Police Office Le Van Chi.
This would help deal effectively with the problem as the waste would not be stored and transported over a distance, which would easily cause pollution, he said.
Chi said it was not easy for authorities to make sure if the medical waste was properly transported to the treatment site. Once the facilities are out of the city, the safety of the transportation was no longer under their control, he said.
Concurring with Chi, Luan urged the city to give top priority to building a hi-tech medical waste treatment facility.
Improper medical waste treatment would badly affect the people's health and livelihoods in the long term, said Luan.
He suggested that if the Government cannot manage the investment on its own, it can invite the private sector's participation.
Most of the medical waste in Viet Nam is treated using incinerators in which all the waste is burned at very high temperatures, according to the website run by Biotech Viet Nam.
However, this technology creates dioxin, a toxic chemical that poses high risk for hormonal disorders in human beings and related diseases. It also creates ashes equal to 10 per cent of the original waste quantity.
Apart from generating other harmful waste for the human and environment, the burning technology also involves huge initial investments and is not energy efficient, according to the website of BioTech Viet Nam, a distributor of healthcare products.
This is one of the reasons why the United Nations and the World Health Organisation have recommended the application of the pasteurisation technology instead of burning, the website says.
The cost for a pasteurisation furnace is half that of a burning furnace and is also more energy efficient. The technology is widely used in developed countries, the company says.
VietNamNet/Viet Nam News