Staging a comeback

The old glass syringe is back in Calcutta's government hospitals

By Ranjita Biswas
Published: Tuesday 15 September 1998

A touch of glass: how safe is< (Credit: Amit Shanker /CSE)THE use of disposable syringes - which is a standard recommendation of the World Health Organisation - is being discontinued to make way for the old glass syringes in Calcutta's government hospitals. This move is in response to the fact that disposable syringes are not broken properly before throwing away and are recycled. Rag pickers collect them to sell to manufacturers.

According to a report by the All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health and the West Bengal Pollution Control Board: "Hospital wastes are collected by conservatory workers twice a day. Syringes, saline bottles, blood bags... are salvaged for recycling". The re-introduction of the old syringe is despite the introduction of a system of segregation of hospital waste by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC). According to the scheme, the CMC would segregate the hospital waste into sharp waste (needles), organic waste (human waste) and inorganic waste (chemicals and bandages) and pack them into coloured bags. The cost of 3 this operation, about Rs 5 lakh, was to be recovered from the 272 hospitals and nursing homes around the city at a rate of Rs 30 per bed per day.

But accprding to reports the scheme has not taken off as the government hos-pitals are showing little interest in imple-menting the guidelines. There is also only a small number of coloured bags for collection compared to the number of beds. Besides, the nexus of rag pickers and hospital staff is thriving. Doctors at the National Medical College and Hospital admit that the hospital staff hand over the wastes to the rag pickers for monetary gain. There have also been allegations that a cash-strapped state government is seeking to cut costs by investing in glass syringes which are cheaper and can be used 50 to 60 times. But many people are disturbed. Many wonder whether the multi-use syringes would be properly sterilised.

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