(eTN) – Two major Freetown government hospitals have been discarding potentially dangerous hospital waste, including used syringes, onto hospital grounds and into the ocean, the Concord Times discovered last week.
Employees at both the Connaught and Princess Christian Margaret Hospital (PCMH) have admitted to dumping waste behind both hospitals and sometimes directly into the water.
“I know that when we dump it here it will end up in the sea,” said one cleaner at PCMH, who asked to remain anonymous. “My boss never gave me anywhere else to dump the waste.” She said if it rains, most of the hospital’s rubbish flows into the ocean, where it then washes up on the city’s beaches, where it is a danger, an eyesore and a serious environmental problem.
Another anonymous employee at Connaught Hospital said as well as being a potential danger on the beaches and in the ocean, the used needles and broken glass-products have also hurt staff in the past.
“I blame my bosses,” he said. “The hospital should have an area or a hole where all these things should be discarded. Or the government should provide a vehicle to carry these things out of the city every week.” The cleaner also said one patient was wounded on used needles behind Connaught Hospital after she ran outside to vomit.
Despite repeated attempts to contact him, the manager of Connaught Hospital, Ibrahim Turay, was unavailable for comment.
Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation Sheiku Tejan Koroma said he was shocked to learn hospitals were not properly disposing of potentially dangerous waste.
“This is really bad, it’s very dangerous,” he said.
Koroma said he is unaware of hospital waste disposal proceduces, but said he will look into the issue. As well, he said he hopes President Koroma will start a public awareness campaign in order to deal with the country’s serious waste and sanitation issues. He also said he hopes dustbins will soon be placed on all city streets.
Last week’s discovery was most upsetting for Freetown’s growing tourist industry. Patricia Brown, the owner of KTI Express Travel and Tours, said she was upset and angry.
Sitting in the Bunker Beach Bar at Lumley Beach Thursday, Brown said the country’s beaches are it’s biggest tourist attraction and if they are ruined by hospital waste, the country will suffer.
“We thought it was drug-dealers,” said Brown, who recalled several foreign clients commenting on used syringes on Lumley and Aberdeen beaches. “This beach, if it’s kept clean, this is where it all starts.” Deputy minister Koroma agreed with Brown: “If the beaches are covered with all sorts of hospital waste it’s dangerous, so that would be a deterent for tourists.” Brown called on the new government to do something about the situation as soon as possible: “Maybe they don’t know about it, but if they do, it must stop.” She said members of the new government have said they want to increase tourism, which will be impossible if the beaches are ruined.
Motioning over her shoulder at rubbish thrown on Lumley Beach, Brown said last year she proposed a regular beach-cleaning day, but nobody in government was interested.
She said other cities in West Africa have seen tourists travel elsewhere because beaches were too dirty, especially Accra and Abidjan, which have both suffered drops in tourism in recent years.
“For years we have boasted of the best beaches in Africa and I would not like to see that happen here,” she said. “We have to do something to prevent it now, even for ourselves we have to keep it clean – the locals enjoy it too.” Some business owners along Freetown’s beaches are also concerned.
S.A. Jaward, general manager of Family Kingdom resort, said although most of his clients are foreign workers and not tourists, they still spend time on the beach.
“Eventually we will get tourists,” he said. “If the ocean is polluted it will affect the tourism industry because people come for the beautiful beach.” Sarah Fox, an Irish foreign worker at the Ministry of Health, said she also wondered about the waste on the beach.
“Definitely I’ve seen it,” she said. “Definitely, specificially and clearly medical things, tubes and such. I think everyone has a pretty nasty image of how clean Lumley Beach is, which is a shame.” Fox said her parent’s are visiting for Christmas and they definitely won’t be swimming at Freetown’s beaches: “You don’t want something floating into your face,” she said.