Rising PPE waste another concern facing AIIMS, now

The All India Institute of Medical Sciences, the country’s premier healthcare facility, is grappling with the problem of dealing with used personal protection equipment generated since March.

New Delhi: The All India Institute of Medical Sciences, the country’s premier healthcare facility, is grappling with the problem of dealing with used personal protection equipment generated since March. The institute has been storing used PPE ever since the Covid-19 outbreak, posing agrave threat to health and environment, some faculty members told ET on condition of anonymity.

The AIIMS administration is aware of the problem and had issued a notice last month after it was found that used Tyvek and other biosafety coverall suits and N-95 masks generated from various patient care areas have been lying in AIIMS premises. “Tyvek and similar biosafety coverall suits and N-95 masks are being stored for a period of more than 2-3 weeks, which is not advisable from infection control point of view,” AIIMS medical superintendent DK Sharma noted in a circular on May 26.

The area earmarked for storing used PPE is the medicine OPD for the hospital and the 8th floor of the burns and plastic surgery block for the trauma centre, which is a violation of biomedical waste management and handling rules issued by the environment ministry, the staffers claimed. “AIIMS itself is a hotspot, waiting to explode with more than 500 people including staff and their relatives infected with Covid-19. On top of that, they are keeping infected PPE all around, which is hazardous,” one of the faculty members said.


AIIMS director Randeep Guleria said the PPE were not disposed of because of a plan to recycle them amid a shortage. “We had kept them as backup. We were not clear about the supply but now that we have sufficient supplies available, we have asked to dispose of them,” he told ET. He said AIIMS was assessing whether high-end used PPE could be recycled and reused.

In the May 26 circular, a copy of which ET reviewed, the medical superintendent had directed the convenor of the committee for disinfection to sanitise the used PPE and dispose of them. According to biomedical waste management rules, untreated human anatomical waste, animal anatomical waste, soiled waste and biotechnology waste shall not be stored beyond a period of 48 hours.

Hospitals are supposed to take all steps to ensure that biomedical waste is handled without any adverse effect to human health and the environment. They should maintain a register that’s updated daily and display on their websites the monthly record of various categories of biomedical waste generated. According to the World Health Organization’s guidance for treating coronavirus patients, PPE should be “discarded in an appropriate waste container after use.”
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A resident doctor at AIIMs alleged that while the hospital administration is pressuring doctors and nurses not to raise their voices against irrational work hours and the poor-quality PPE, it failed in its duty to ensure basic occupational safety and created an environment conducive for the spread of the coronavirus within the facility. AIIMS is already facing the heat, with 350-400 of its staff infected.
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