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Garbage scavengers at risk of infections, say experts

Update: June, 08/2015 - 08:33
The stink of garbage surrounds the site and it becomes severe on hot summer days. — File Photo

HCM CITY (VNS) — Every day, dozens of trucks carrying garbage arrive at HiepThanh waste dump in District 12 to dispose of waste collected from across HCM City and leave behind a mountain of rubbish.

The stink of garbage surrounds the site and it becomes severe on hot summer days.

Despite the smell, hundreds of people, most of them children, wearing no protective gear such as boots, gloves or eye glasses, use small metal rods to rummage through the garbage piles searching for items that can be sold.

There are thousands of such human scavengers working at many waste dumps across HCM City. Health experts consider this group at risk of health problems because of exposure to waste and pollution, which, they say, can get worse due to their inadequate knowledge of health-care.

Toxic waste

Dr. Nguyen Thi Hung, former director of the Nguyen Tri Phuong Hospital in the city, told Ha Noi Moi (New Ha Noi) newspaper that human scavengers, who directly handled untreated wastes at dumps without wearing protective clothing, were under the threat of contracting infectious diseases, including those caused by helminth, bacterium, bacillus, and virus. Hung added that apart from infections, they were exposed to toxic chemical substances, including lead, mercury, benzene, and styrene butadience.

Dr Tran Hai Yen from the HCM City Eye Hospital said many waste collectors, including scavengers, suffered from optical diseases since most of them did not wear eye protection glasses while working at polluted dumps.

"They work almost all day every day at dumps; many of them even live close to dumps, so the danger of eye infections is unavoidable. It can get worse as they do not wear any protective work gear, particularly eye protective glasses," said Yen.

Dr. Nguyen Thanh Hiep, an expert on family medicine from Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine, said there was no specific healthcare policy for labourers in the field of environmental hygiene, including those working at waste dumps.

Hiep said there was a severe shortage of research on garbage collectors, particularly children who accounted for a large number of them.

Hiep added that children who worked at waste dumps should be protected as one of the most poor and vulnerable labour groups of the society.

The expert called for authorities and social welfare organisations to pay more attention to such groups by providing them with the knowledge of health-care protection.

Hiep said they should be provided with free health-care training courses, services, and special health insurance packages.

Little recycling

Every day, HCM City's nearly 10 million citizens discharge some 6,000-6,500 tonnes of solid waste, of which 5,500 tonnes is rubbish related to daily lifestyle.

While 95 per cent of the total solid waste generated daily are collected every day, only about 16 per cent are recycled. The remaining are transferred to waste dumps and piled up.

A research by the city's environmental authority revealed that 50 per cent of the garbage generated in the city are collected by private parties, of whom only 67 per cent are equipped with protective work gear.

A report from the city's Department of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs showed that a low percentage of 5.1 and 16.7 per cent of such labour groups avail of social and health insurance facilities, respectively. — VNS

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