A hospital built and run by Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) has been accused of burning medical waste in the heart of a community in Maiduguri, the thick smoke of which is seriously affecting the health of those suffering from asthma and other respiratory diseases and making others – particularly children – ill.
The hospital has been providing an effective healthcare service to the people of Kushari since it was built almost a year ago. But its burning of medical waste is causing environmental pollution that has been described as hazardous to the health of the residents.
Although there have been numerous complaints – to both the hospital and Borno State government – nothing has been done to stop the facility from burning its medical waste in the community, which is not only harmful but also against the law.
It has upset residents to such a degree that they have now pledged to write a petition to stop the hospital’s harmful actions.
Jafar Mohammed said: “The MSF hospital burns its garbage at night. We cannot sleep because of the excessive smoke. Our children cry and cough and the smoke burns our eyes, making them water. People who live close to the hospital are most affected.
“What the MSF hospital management is doing is not good at all. They should burn their waste in the forest, not in the middle of the community. We want the government to do something about it.”
Another resident, Mohammed Bukar, agreed. “This hospital was built by MSF to help our community and we really appreciate the healthcare service it delivers. But burning its trash and waste materials at the hospital is affecting the people of the community.
“It creates a lot of smoke. Sometimes we can feel it burning in our lungs. We cannot even go outside with our eyes open. What the hospital is doing is hazardous to our health, especially to those who suffer with asthma.
“Just recently, during Ramadan, when we were observing the night prayer [Tahajjud] at about 12am to 1am, the hospital started burning the waste. People started coughing, little children were crying and coughing too. Some left the mosque without praying, because they had difficulty breathing. The excessive smoke in the air especially affects those who suffer from asthma and other respiratory-related diseases.
“Before, the MSF hospital used to burn its waste materials during the day until the management of the newly commissioned Tijjani Bolori Memorial Government School opposite the hospital complained about it. The hospital then started burning its waste at midnight.
“We, the inhabitants of the community, now want to write a petition to force the hospital to stop this. We have complained several times and they still have not taken any action, which is not right.
“We know the hospital is here to help wipe out diseases by providing medical services. But it is not here to create diseases or exacerbate the illnesses of those who already suffer from respiratory diseases.”
Goni Zarami said: “The MSF hospital is doing us more harm than good. Whenever it starts burning the waste materials, the smoke really affects us. Sometimes particles or ashes from the fire gets into our drinking water and food. We have to cover our food and water, otherwise we cannot consume or drink it.
“We are no longer safe in this community. The hospital must stop burning its waste materials here. We are begging the government to take the necessary action before the hospital kills all of us. Our health and lives matter.”
An RNI reporter went to the hospital to ask for comment. After introducing himself, one of the security men at the gate told the reporter to wait as he went inside to call someone from the hospital’s management unit. A few minutes later he returned, saying that there were no management staff around at the time. RNI was denied access.
Mohammed Usman, a health practitioner, told RNI that there were many health implications attached to even normal bush burning, let alone medical waste, in a places where people lived.
“Burning of hospital waste in a community should not be allowed. Even burning normal rubbish or garbage is not allowed because it creates environmental pollution, such as air and water pollution.
“When waste materials are burnt, the ashes from the smoke could contaminate food and water. This kind of pollution could cause lung disease, heart disease, as well as other health implications, such as difficulty in breathing for those with asthma and other respiratory infections. The smoke can also affect individuals’ eyes, causing them to water.”
Usman said there were legislated guidelines for incinerating hospital waste. The Federal Government had put in place laws restricting hospitals and clinics from burning waste materials in towns or cities.
“There are established rules and regulations guiding the burning of hospital waste so that it does not affect public health. For example, the Borno State government has an incinerator facility in Molai, on the outskirts of Maiduguri, where waste materials that are harmful to people are burnt.
“So, if any hospital or clinic, whether private or government, fails to comply with the laws, it should be prosecuted. The government should monitor the activities of every hospital and clinic to curb the menace of incinerating hospital waste materials in town.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said about 85% of the total amount of waste generated by healthcare facilities was not hazardous. However, the remaining 15% was considered to be hazardous material and could be infectious, toxic or radioactive.
Every year an estimated 16 billion injections are administered worldwide, but not all of the needles and syringes are properly disposed of afterwards, it said. Open burning and the incineration of healthcare waste could, under certain circumstances, result in the emission of dioxins, furans and particulate matter.
The agency said healthcare waste contained potentially harmful micro-organisms that could infect hospital patients, health workers and the public. Other potential hazards included drug-resistant micro-organisms, which could be spread from health facilities into the environment.
However, the kinds of hospital waste that were most harmful to public health included:
Infectious waste: contaminated with blood and other bodily fluids (for example from discarded diagnostic samples), cultures and stocks of infectious agents from laboratory work (waste from autopsies and infected animals from laboratories), or waste from patients with infections (for example swabs, bandages and disposable medical devices).
Pathological waste: human tissues, organs or fluids, body parts and contaminated animal carcasses.
Sharps waste: syringes, needles, disposable scalpels and blades.
Chemical waste: solvents and reagents used for laboratory preparations, disinfectants, sterilants and heavy metals contained in medical devices, such as mercury in broken thermometers, and batteries.
Pharmaceutical waste: expired, unused and contaminated drugs and vaccines.
Cytotoxic waste: containing substances with genotoxic properties that are highly hazardous, mutagenic, teratogenic or carcinogenic, such as cytotoxic drugs used in cancer treatment and their metabolites.
Radioactive waste: products contaminated by radionuclides, including radioactive diagnostic material or radiotherapeutics.
Non-hazardous or general waste did not pose any particular biological, chemical, radioactive or physical hazard, the WHO said.
- MSF – also known as Doctors Without Borders – is an international humanitarian medical non-governmental organisation (NGO), best known for its projects in conflict zones and in countries affected by endemic diseases. Its main areas of work include diabetes, drug-resistant infections, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, tropical and neglected diseases, tuberculosis, vaccines and COVID-19 infections.
Private donors provide about 90% of the organisation’s funding, while corporate donations provide the rest, giving MSF an annual budget of about US$1.63 billion.
MSF began working in Nigeria when the insurgency, started by the Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’way Wa’l-Jihād (JAS), better known as Boko Haram, intensified and the need for humanitarian aid increased. It has been responding to disease outbreaks and emergency health needs in the country for many years, focusing on maternal and paediatric healthcare and scaling up its activities in the northeast as vast numbers of people caught up in the conflict began to depend on aid to survive.
SHETTIMA LAWAN MONGUNO