Manual scavengers prone to diarrhoea, TB: doctors

Most sanitation workers in the city lack access to safety gear, leaving them susceptible to multiple diseases

Updated - July 05, 2017 12:03 pm IST

Published - July 05, 2017 01:55 am IST - NEW DELHI

Manual scavengers are at a risk of developing multiple diseases due to the unhygienic conditions that they work in, say doctors.

Some of the common health problems that affect manual scavengers are respiratory tract infections, carbon monoxide poisoning, nausea, diarrhoea and tuberculosis. Infections such as leptospirosis, hepatitis and helicobacter are also rampant among them.

“Manual scavengers are constantly exposed to harmful gases like methane and hydrogen sulphide, which put them at a risk of developing cardiovascular degeneration, osteoarthritis and intervertebral disc herniation,” says K. K. Aggarwal of the Indian Medical Association.

Hands used to clean waste

Health complications are also caused as most manual scavengers work without any safety gear and use their hands to clean waste.

A report released by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in January 2007 stated that 90% of manual scavengers in the country did not have access to protective equipment like gloves, masks, boots and brooms.

Research indicates that women who work as manual scavengers without any safety gear are in constant danger of contracting diseases of the hand, foot and mouth disease, hepatitis A, meningitis (viral), rotavirus and salmonella infections, among others.

‘No health cover’

“What makes things worse is the fact that most are contract labourers and have no health cover. They commonly suffer from cuts, injuries and irritation of the eyes. Many even die before retirement,” says Anil Bansal of the Delhi Medical Association.

Last month, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) termed manual scavengers the “worst example of violation of right to life, dignity, equality and healthcare” while taking suo motu cognisance of a media report on the plight of such workers.

Despite all this, manual scavenging continues unhindered in the country.

“Manual scavengers are exposed to filth throughout their lives. That in itself is the biggest health hazard that they have to live with,” sums up Dr. Bansal.

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