The reference group that came up with the framework to mainstream environment, climate change and poverty in the 11th Five Year Plan (FYP) has recommended the health ministry to make use of eco-friendly alternatives to reduce environment pollution.
Medical waste generated by hospitals across the country was identified as one of the main impacts of health ministry on the environment.
Recently an Asian Development Bank (ADB) funded study on managing hazardous wastes in the country revealed that 29 hospitals across the country generated healthcare waste neighboring around 497 tons in a year. Of this, 62.5% (310.5 tons) is hazardous waste.
It has been found that medical waste generated from across the country has been increasing and to make matters worse there is a lack of effective waste storage and disposal facility in the hospitals and BHUs and a lack of facility to manage chemical wastes. This leads to the pollution of streams, rivers, ground waters and many more.
The ADB study reveals that 12.9 tons of wastes are disposed off in the municipal bin without treatment, 51.58 tons are buried in deep pits and 67.6 tons are burnt, accounting for only 41% of the total health hazardous wastes.
Information on the remaining 59% of the health hazardous wastes and its disposal method is not mentioned.
The reference group recommended several alternatives to be included in the next FYP to reduce the amount of medical waste generated by the hospitals.
The group recommended the ministry to include options like minimizing import of hazardous equipment such as mercury thermometer and blood pressure apparatus and promote the use of digital apparatus.
The group also suggested health ministry to encourage suppliers to supply medicines and equipments in degradable materials to reduce the impact on environment.
The reference group noted that apart from environmental impacts, poor medical waste management resulted in emerging health hazards and also emergence of vector borne diseases.
Some expected benefits from these alternatives are decrease in environment pollution by the improved waste disposal technology and prevention and control of emerging waste related health problems.
Another issue highlighted was the unsustainable harvesting of medicinal plants for production and manufacture of traditional medicines.
The reference group found that there has been over-harvesting and collection of medicinal plants which also has an impact on the environment.
Traditional medicine has more than 1,000 formulations and most of these formulations require multiple ingredients of both plants and animals.
The group noted that there was high wastage of medicinal plants due to bad quality. Bad quality has been attributed to low capacity and inefficient drying facility to meet increased demand for medicinal plants.
The group says rare medicinal plants might come under threat of extinction if the wastage of medicinal plants continues to increase. This, the group says, may lead to extinction of rare medicinal plants.
To minimize threat on rare medicinal plants, the group recommends the health ministry to promote community based sustainable cultivation and harvesting of the plants, research and explore plant substitutes for animal origin.
To reduce the wastage of medicinal plants due to bad quality and to improve the quality, the health ministry has been recommended to expand and extend drying facilities in collection centers.
Other alternatives to be mainstreamed in the ministry’s coming FYP are strict implementation of waste management rules and regulations 2011 and creating cross-sectoral awareness on waste hazards and management.
It has also been found that there is a lack of eco-efficient and disaster resilient features in the health infrastructures.
The group noted that there was low use of local materials, use of excess building materials like heating and cooling systems, high use of imported materials which increases carbon footprint and inefficient use of electricity and water.
For the health infrastructures to become more eco-efficient, the group recommends integration of eco-efficient, climate and disaster resilient features in the design and construction of the buildings.
The group also recommended the health ministry to adopt alternative sustainable methods of energy and conservation of resource use through rain water harvesting, solar roofing, cross ventilation for cooling, among others.