Medical equipment like masks, sanitisers, gloves, and personal protective kits have become a part of life ever since the COVID pandemic broke out. However, there are some reports indicating that the rampant use of unhygienic masks and used medical equipment is increasing the burden on the health care system.
Authorities across several Indian states have seized “unhygienic” surgical gloves, masks, and even personal protective equipment (PPE) kits over the past few weeks, exposing a racket in which fraudsters were supplying used medical gear to hospitals and pharmacies.
The Delhi police recently seized around five tonnes of surgical gloves from scrap stores and arrested six men in massive raids carried out across the city during the final week of May this year.
Speaking to Sputnik, a senior Delhi Police official revealed links between these fraudsters and hospitals as well as government-approved vendors and companies involved in the collection and disposal of biomedical waste.
“Most of the arrested accused were labourers and were working on daily or monthly wages. We have also got to know about the involvement of a middle man who supplied gloves to them. Detailed interrogation has revealed that a chain is being run by which used gloves from hospitals or from vendors authorised for discarding biomedical waste are being sourced by fraudsters”, the officer revealed.
According to the police, one of the six arrested suspects, identified as a scrap dealer named Lal Dass, revealed that he had purchased used gloves in bulk from a middle man. The price of the gloves varied between INR 25 ($0.34) and INR 35 ($0.48) per kg, depending on the quality and colour of the gloves.
“The scrap dealer further sold the gloves to people for INR 45($0.62) and INR 55($0.75) per kg, who then washed and repackaged the gloves in new boxes and sold them in the market with a profit margin between INR 100($1.37) and INR 120($1.64) per kg. The nexus is operating across several states”, the officer explained.
A video from Madhya Pradesh state emerged last month showing people washing masks, gloves, and PPE kits inside a biomedical waste disposal unit. According to the police, these people were working to repackage the items for resale in markets.
Medical experts have said that this was not only a violation of the rules of disposal of biomedical waste, but also a risk to the health of doctors and patients.
According to COVID-19 safety protocols, used PPE kits, masks, and gloves are to be disposed of safely after use and the protective medical gear can’t be used again.
“Several news articles and videos are coming up in which people are washing the used protective medical gears. Such acts are not just creating panic but would lead to health disaster among the masses. I think these rackets cannot be run without the connivance of retailers and hospitals selling or using these gloves”, Dr Vaibhav Trivedi, a representative of the Resident Doctors Association (RDA), AIIMS (Delhi), said.
He further stated that used protective gear should in no way reach a scrap dealer.
“Using discarded pairs of gloves or masks may cause serious infections and other diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis B to patients, especially those undergoing surgery. With the pandemic in the country there are chances more people get infected by using these used protective gears”, he said.
According to COVID protocols, biomedical waste collected from hospitals by government-approved vendors is dumped at designated sites for disposal. The used gear is then shredded in machines and autoclaved at 130-140 degrees Celsius in special machines. The autoclaved plastic waste is washed and supplied to companies that recycle plastic and use it to make new items.
As per data compiled by the Central Pollution Control Board, the country has been generating nearly 146 tonnes of biomedical waste a day due to diagnostic activities and treatment of COVID-19. The data suggests that since June 2020, India has produced over 50,000 tonnes of biomedical waste due to COVID-19. This is in addition to the 615 tonnes of biomedical waste a day produced before the pandemic struck.