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Sierra Leone News: Connaught Hospital discharges medical waste into the sea

An audit has revealed that liquid waste from Connaught Hospital is being discharged into the Atlantic Ocean. A large part of the wastewater from healthcare facilities is potentially infectious and poses a higher risk than domestic wastewater. Connaught Hospital as the principal referral hospital provides medical and surgical services, treatment for HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, leprosy and other diseases to patients and it is situated on the bank of the Atlantic Ocean, near King Jimmy wharf. The Performance Audit Report on the Management of healthcare waste by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MOHS) was conducted by the Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL). Depending on the service level and tasks of the healthcare facility, the wastewater might contain chemicals, pharmaceuticals and contagious biological agents. Sewers of healthcare facilities are often not watertight, and a significant part of the wastewater in many places may leak into the groundwater. Disinfection of wastewater from healthcare establishments is required particularly if the wastewater is discharged into any water body used for recreational activities or discharged into coastal waters close to shellfish habitats. Chlorine-based disinfectants are traditionally used to disinfect such healthcare wastewater. It was revealed during the audit that the untreated liquid waste generated in this hospital were directly emptied through a channel that runs into the ocean and this wastewater is potentially infected, thereby threatening marine life and human health. As it contaminates seafood, this therefore threatened people’s life especially those consuming seafood and those using beaches. There is also a risk of infecting swimmers as they may unconsciously drink the water when swimming. During their physical inspection at Connaught Hospital, they found healthcare waste freshly dumped within the compound in a yellow bag, which is used to collect infectious waste. “Others had been dumped outside the fence, very close to the ocean.” The waste appeared to have been dumped there long ago as some were covered by grass. Dumping waste anywhere is a very dangerous practice, but worsened when they are dumped close to the ocean. When it rains, it washes away the waste into the ocean and healthcare waste accumulates at the beaches. This was particularly observed at Lumley Beach where syringes, needles and sets of drip with needles were found together with other municipal solid waste. This constitutes a serious threat to people entertaining at beaches as they can be punctured by infected needles. In addition to this, none of the hospitals visited by the Auditors was connected to efficient, working sewage-treatment plants. “This implies that healthcare wastewater is also discharged in either surface watercourses or percolates into underlying groundwater with no treatment,” the Auditors said. “This poses a very high risk to the environment and can lead to several waterborne diseases that are a threat to human life.” The Auditors recommended that MoHS should ensure that healthcare liquid waste is treated and disposed of appropriately. In their response, they promised that the National Integrated Waste Management Unit will conduct quarterly meetings, supportive supervision grading/monitoring and reporting on HCWM practices across hospitals subject to the availability of funds. But these issues the Auditor’s noted remains unresolved since the recommendation is yet to be implemented.

ZJ/1/11/18

By Zainab Iyamide Joaque

Friday November 02, 2018.

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