A solution to biomedical waste disposal (July Week 4 (2005))
An innovative plant that can manage biomedical waste in hospitals safely and cheaply has been developed by a team from the Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT). It is an alternative to the incinerator and the deep-burial method followed
in India, which are not recommended by the Stockholm Convention of 2002 and need to be phased out. Bio-reactors that combine engineering concepts and microbial intervention to reduce anatomical wastes quickly into liquid form makes treating of biomedical wastes
easy and safe, said Dr AK Sabhapathy (The Pioneer, Monday, July 18, 2005), Patron of Qualified Private Medical Practioners Association (QPMPA). The research, financed by the QPMPA of Kerala, has successfully conducted trials in 14 hospitals across Kerala after
developing a prototype and the results have proved that the method is quite effective and easy to operate. Highly hazardous and infectious biomedical waste comprising contaminated needles, human anatomical waste, waste from culture and laboratory, body fluids,
plasters, discarded medicines, cotton and dressings continue to be dumped in the backyard of the hospitals. As a result of the absence of a waste management system, the unsegregated waste is piled in the hospital campus and thrown recklessly at the dumping
sites, where the highly infectious medical waste gets mixed up with the domestic waste and makes the entire dump yard a hotbed of diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B, Leptospira, skin problems and allergies. According to QPMPA, a single bed in a hospital generates
1.1 kilogram of solid waste daily, of which only 10 per cent is infective. 150 millilitre of liquid waste is also generated per bed. Interestingly, most of the hospitals in India don't have any system for disposal of the biomedical waste. "The new system is
also economical and the management of waste is done inside the hospital that reduces the danger from transportation," Dr Sabhapathy said. The four-stage plant costs only Rs 1.25 lakh and negligible expenses are needed to maintain the plant, he said. Emissions
and effluent water from the plants were tested in laboratories and found to be well below the unsafe level. After approval from the Pollution Control Board, the plant and the technology would be patented. The Pollution Control Board insists on individual incinerators
or common incinerator facility, which is highly dangerous for a densely populated State, Dr Sabhapathy said. Incineration is a dying technology and as a waste treatment technology, it is unreliable and produces a secondary waste stream more dangerous than
the original. Individual incinerators in hospitals would cost Rs 14,00,000 and the daily expense would come close to Rs 400. Due to the cost factor, hospitals with a capacity of more than 200 beds only install the facility leaving the rest to contaminate the
land, he said. Common incinerators also pose a threat as the waste needs to be transported and it may be a risk in Indian conditions. Deep burial is natural, but reports also show that in places with high rains and rising groundwater level, there is possibility
of leaching leading to spread of disease agents.
US recognizes India as a nuclear power state (July Week 4 (2005))
The US has decided to treat India at par with recognised nuclear weapon states and accord it all their "benefits and advantages". This includes nuclear fuel supplies for safeguarded civilian nuclear reactors at Tarapore. US President George Bush will work
to remove Congressional constraints that stand in the way of American supplies of nuclear fuel and dual use technology to India. He will also work with other recognised nuclear power countries towards this end. In turn, India has "reciprocally" agreed to assume
"responsibilities and practices" of leading countries with advanced nuclear technology, like the US, including voluntarily placing its civilian nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, continuing unilateral moratorium
on nuclear tests and adherence, among other things, to Missile Technology Control Regime and Nuclear Suppliers' Group guidelines. The path-breaking decisions that signify radical shifts in American and Indian nuclear policies are contained in the India-US
joint statement issued after a summit level meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George Bush in the White House last week. The joint statement, which took nearly five hours to hammer out, says: "President Bush conveyed his appreciation
to the Prime Minister over India's strong commitment to preventing weapons of mass destruction proliferation and stated that as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology India should acquire the same benefits and advantages as other such states."
Mr Bush told Mr Singh that he "will work to achieve full civil nuclear cooperation with India as it realises its goals of promoting nuclear power and achieving energy security". Since Congressional approval is crucial to implement US nuclear supplies, "the
President would also seek agreement from Congress to adjust US laws and policies, and the US will work with friends and allies to adjust international regimes to enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India, including but not limited to
expeditious consideration of fuel supplies for safeguarded nuclear reactors at Tarapore. In the meantime, the US will encourage its partners to also consider this request expeditiously. According to the joint statement, "India has expressed its interests in
ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) and willingness to contribute. The US will consult its partners considering India's participation".
Soft Drink companies in trouble again (July Week 4 (2005))
Pepsi and Coca-Cola are in the dock again, not only in India but back home in the US too. While in India, the beverage majors are preparing to fight the August 3 deadline of complying with the Rajasthan High Court ruling of having to disclose the contents
including the level of pesticides on the product label, in the US a call for putting a cigarette-like statutory warning on soft drinks has put the beverage industry in a tight spot. In a situation akin to India, a consumer group called Centre for Science in
the Public Interest (CSPI) filed a petition last week with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), USA, demanding that companies post health notices on soft drinks highlighting the harmful effects of high calorie sweeteners. Suggested warnings by CSPI include:
“US Government recommends that you drink less (non-diet) soda to help prevent weight gain, tooth decay, and other health problems” and “To help protect your waistline and your teeth, consider drinking diet sodas or water”. The issue has triggered a debate
within the soft drink industry with the American Beverage Association (ABA), the trade association representing the beverage giants in the country, posting a strong statement in its website. Terming the CSPI call a shallow gesture, ABA president and CEO Susan
Neely said it defied common sense and consumer sensibility. Meanwhile, in India, both Pepsico India and Coca-Cola India are currently in closed door meetings to decide on the future legal course on the label. Whether the companies will again get away clean
remains to be seen.
G-8 Summit (Issue of the week, July Week 2 (2005))
The G-8 Summit held in Scotland last week was fraught with many ups and downs. Following is a brief review of what transpired –
Angry radical protesters which included youth groups, peace protesters, anti-capitalists, anarchists, anti-globalization campaigners and environmental activists fought running battles with the police as leaders of the world's richest nations gathered in
the Gleneagles estate, in Scotland, the G-8 summit. The dominant theme of the three-day summit was alleviation of poverty from Africa and climate change. Despite one of the biggest security operations, violence erupted as activists of "anarchist'' groups attacked
shops and businesses they regarded as "symbols'' of unbridled globalization. Several protesters and police officers were injured, and a number of arrests were made. Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is hosting the gathering and has pushed Africa to the top of
the agenda, faced accusations of exploiting the issue of poverty in Africa to improve his international image battered by the events in Iraq. At the same time Iraq war allies US President George W. Bush and Tony Blair found themselves advocating rival positions.
Bush defended his handling of Iraq and the treatment of prisoners at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. He sought less aid for Africa than Blair wanted, and leveled renewed criticism at the Kyoto treaty on global warming. Bush also said he recognized that
human activity had contributed to climate change - a concession from an earlier position that the jury was still out on such a connection. But he stood by his rejection of the Kyoto treaty on global warming, calling instead for more cooperation on cleaner
fuels. ``Kyoto didn't work for the United States and it frankly didn't work for the world. The reason it didn't work for the world was that developing nations weren't included,'' Bush said. The United States is the only G-8 member not to ratify the agreement,
which took effect in February. Bush shows no signs of budging from his view that it would harm the world economy to force cutbacks on greenhouse gas emissions. The Bush administration wants voluntary reductions, incentives for alternative fuels such as ethanol,
and nuclear power and conservation.
Then as the summit started the news of the London bomb blasts came through forcing Mr. Blair to leave the Summit and return to London. Meanwhile, the governments of Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa held their mini-summit at Gleneagles and came
up with an interesting enough Joint Declaration. It called for providing "a greater voice to developing countries in U.N. decision-making," promoting "multilateralism," enhancing North-South cooperation, and a renewed commitment to "sustainable development
and the harnessing of the benefits of globalization for all." It also reaffirmed "the role of South-South cooperation in the context of multilateralism" and committed the five large developing countries to "close coordination and cooperation to meet the challenges
arising from globalization, and to promote the common interest of developing countries by striving to more effectively bring together our priorities and international engagement strategies." While the issues of mass hunger and poverty in the developing world
at large did not get anything like the focus African poverty has got in the Summit and in the run-up to it, it raised trade issues connected with barriers to products and services of interest to developing countries and spotlighted the "fundamental requirement"
of achieving "substantive progress, by the end of July 2005, regarding agricultural negotiations, access to non-agricultural markets, services, trade facilitation and rules." It demanded a reduction in "trade-distorting" domestic support for agriculture in
developed countries, and an end to all forms of export subsidies by a date to be agreed. On the gamut of issues relating to climate change, the Joint Declaration highlighted the key point that the international regime represented by the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol rest on "the differentiation of obligations among Parties," according to "the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities of States," namely the developed as distinct from the developing
countries. It will be tough sailing for the informally banded group of five in a world where the Bush administration, and like-minded developed country governments, refuse to accept any such dictum.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a strong pitch at the G8 summit for converting environmentally clean technologies into a “public good” — to be shared without the restrictions of the Intellectual Property Rights regime. He said technology was available today
for eradicating poverty, ill health and protecting the environment but unless “proper mechanisms” were developed, the benefits would not reach the developing countries. Clean energy technologies that would prevent global warming by not generating greenhouse
gases such as carbon dioxide needed to be shared, Singh said. For this, he argued, the international community needed to address the issues relating to intellectual property rights, find new financing mechanisms for spreading the use of new clean energy technologies
in the developing world and collaborative international research in environmentally sustainable technologies on the same scale as was done in the field of agriculture in the 60s. He has reiterated that the G8’s action plan on the environment must not come
at the cost of development. But he has much more clearly articulated the core value that the G8 should take into consideration. It would be tragic if the G8 were to enact measures that made it difficult for millions of people to lift themselves out of poverty.
At a very abstract level, it is easy to pronounce that the care of the environment and reduction in poverty can go together. But the concrete measures that are often proposed in the name of protecting the environment have repercussions for developing countries.
These measures diminish their comparative cost advantages and often act as a non-tariff barrier against greater exports. The implication of the prime minister’s intervention is to direct our attention to the concrete costs and benefits of specific measures.
He has taken a leadership role is asserting that developing countries will make these trade-offs on their own terms. But the other implication of the prime minister’s stance is that mere development alone cannot be a paramount value in judging the impact of
environmental measures. The argument about development is often used indiscriminately to block any sane discussion on the environment. But development as an argument is justified only if its relation with poverty reduction is made clear. This stance is also
consistent with some of the other demands India has put forward — like the relaxation of intellectual property rights in the case of specified new technologies and the dissemination of affordable technology. In each of the cases the core value of reducing
poverty is paramount. In fact by stressing poverty reduction, the prime minister has cut through some of the polarities that have marked recent debates. The choice between developing versus developed countries, environment versus growth, intellectual property
rights versus a regime without such rights, big versus small technology, is simply a false choice. The issue is simply which elements of these different positions will help the poor and which won’t. But to be swayed by a dogmatic allegiance to one side of
the argument will almost certainly not help the poor.
Cheap solar power for villages (July Week 2 (2005))
For as low as Rs 10 a day, a villager can avail of solar power in his home, an amount that he pays a grameen bank for financing his solar power system. And it is such innovative financing that has led Bangalore-based Solar Electric Company or SELCO to win
the Rs 24 lakh 'Green Oscar' award this year. SELCO managing director and co-founder H. Harish Hande is one of three Indians to win the prestigious award (actually known as the Ashden award) for his company’s mission: alleviating poverty through sustainable
energy technologies. SELCO operates in places such as Sirsi, Bidar, Gulbarga and Kumta. It sells all-in-one power systems that can, depending on the requirement, electrify one bulb (meaning one room) to four bulbs. Fans and television sets can also be 'powered'
if the villagers can afford them. Costs range from Rs 5,000 to Rs 20,000. "So far, we have installed 42,000 such systems," Hande is reported to have said. “The system improves income levels too. Villagers save money on kerosene and women make more money because
they can work for longer hours," he explained. SELCO plans to reach 1.38 lakh households in rural Karnataka by 2010.
Monkey experiments resume at NIV (July Week 2 (2005))
Scientists at the National Institute of Virology (NIV) campus, Pune, have reason to smile. The crucial experiments on vaccine development, held up since 2001 for want of rhesus monkeys, are now underway in full swing. Wildlife enthusiasts had “rescued” 50
monkeys from NIV sometime in 2001 citing cruelty to animals. The then Union minister for animal welfare, Maneka Gandhi, who was also chairperson of the Central Committee for Purpose of Control and Supervision on Experimental Animals (CPCSEA), backed these
protests and ultimately, had the CPCSEA ban the sole supplier of monkeys in Nainital. As a result, the NIV found it difficult to continue investigations into major viruses like Hepatitis viruses, Influenza, Measles and Rota. While other research animals like
mice, guinea pigs and rabbits were used, crucial work on vaccine development suffered. In fact, projects in various national institutes across the country had to be put on hold and as a result, various initiatives on vaccine production have fallen behind schedule.
NIV has confirmed that they received the first batch of 20 monkeys in the last week of June. The projects that were pending for over three years were sanctioned by the Animal Welfare Board only last month and the monkeys were dispatched from Uttar Pradesh
by their registered supplier. NIV is one of the premier institutes of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and has investigated over 300 epidemics of suspected viral aetiology in the country.