HIV-Infected, Recycled Syringes Sting Kolkata
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02 August 2011
By, Prithvijit Mitra & Krishnendu Bandopadhyay
It is wobbly with a crooked needle and a depressed piston. The tip looks blunt, the cap is loose and the tube has a pale exterior. ‘For single use only’, says the instruction printed on the syringe but it looks far from a fresh one, safe enough for use. And it is not the only one which doctors at SSKM Hospital in Kolkata suspect to have been recycled from clinical wastes that are routinely dumped in the hospital backyard.
Hundreds of syringes, saline bottles, blood bags, slides and other medical equipment –all recycled – are believed to have infiltrated SSKM through a network that has been active for some years. The result could be disastrous and might have started taking effect already, fear doctors.
TOI got hold of a syringe bearing lot number 11071 bought by the hospital in June. Tightly wrapped in a transparent packet, it looks like any other syringe. But, the piston is unsteady and loose while the needle is blunt. “It is clear that this is a recycled product and could be carrying deadly germs. Hepatitis B is the most common virus that recycled instruments like these could be carrying. Even HIV can’t be ruled out,” said Rezaul Karim, a senior faculty at the hospital.
The recycled syringes are mixed up with new ones in a batch. “It’s a fifty-fifty mix so you don’t know what you are going to get,” said a doctor. Ironically, the genuine ones were priced lower – at Rs 7 per piece – as against the recycled variety that cost Rs 7.10. It’s not just syringes that are being recycled. Slides for collecting blood samples are regularly found to have been used before. The stains on recycled slides are a giveaway but they are not easy to spot. But doctors don’t fail to notice them. “Blood reports are likely to be inaccurate if these slides are used. We often advise patients to get slides from College Street instead of buying them from shops around the hospital,” said Karim.
SSKM authorities admit to an inefficient disposal system. The waste is dumped in an open space behind the superintendent’s office and remains uncollected till 11am. “We do try and put them into three separate bags as per the norm. The agency which collects the waste is at fault as well. They don’t collect the waste in time,” said Provash Chakrabarty, medical superintendent of the hospital. The waste is taken to Dhapa where they are sold at slums on the city’s Basanti Expressway and Tangra-Topsia Road, off EM Bypass. Here, the reusable parts are segregated and sent to fringe areas like Mahishbathan, Dum Dum and Garia for cleaning. From there, the recycled wastes make their way to the “manufacturing” units at Burrabazar where they are repackaged and sold back to retailers.