Garbage collectors decry lack of protective gear

Waste collectors are at risk of contacting poor hygiene-borne and blood transmissible diseases if not well protected, a medical director at Kigali University Teaching Hospital (CHUK) has warned.
Waste collectors go about their business without protective gear. Most are at risk of  contacting life threatening diseases.  The New Times/Timothy Kisambira.
Waste collectors go about their business without protective gear. Most are at risk of contacting life threatening diseases. The New Times/Timothy Kisambira.

Waste collectors are at risk of contacting poor hygiene-borne and blood transmissible diseases if not well protected, a medical director at Kigali University Teaching Hospital (CHUK) has warned. 

Dr Martin Nyundo also warns that exposure to the foul smell can lead to the contraction of diseases such as tuberculosis.

The warning came after complaints by a group of waste collectors from Real Cleaning Company in Gitega sector, Nyarugenge district, about the lack of protective gear even though City of Kigali officials have set guidelines regarding the protection of workers. The garbage collectors say they load and carry waste bags without mouth masks and gloves. 

“While on duty, it is difficult to properly breathe with the stench that is emitted from the waste bags. I have also noticed that every time I belch, it is the same stench that comes out,” 30-year-old Claudine Uwineza told The New Times.

She added that she and her colleagues use bare hands to collect waste.

“This is really dangerous. Right now, I feel sore right from the throat, down to all the other internal organs and this is probably as a result of the bad smell of the waste I always collect unprotected,” Uwineza said.

Asked why they do not have mouth masks and gloves, the mother of three, who earns Rwf9,000 per week, said the company promised to provide the gear within a month but they are still waiting.

Uwineza’s claims are supported by Dr Nyundo, who said the smell from waste is contaminated with numerous germs that may have long-term repercussions.

“When they are unprotected, they will most definitely want to blow their noses and this is a very good opportunity for the germs to strike,” warned the medic.

In a recent interview, a Solid Waste Management expert at the City of Kigali, John Mugabo, said long term inhaling of waste stench can cause various diseases that could have been prevented by the use of protection tools like masks.

Besides, Mugabo said, any contact with hazardous, electronic or toxic waste when unprotected can cause ill-health.

“The effects vary, depending on what type of waste you are exposed to,” Mugabo explained, adding that some of the effects are long-term, which may mislead some to think they are immune.

He, however, said city authorities will follow-up on companies in the business, and find out whether they adhere to the set guidelines.

Companies in the waste collection business are given guidelines to follow prior to getting a license, and one of them is to provide workers with the full protective gear, namely boots, gloves and mouth masks.

But Thacienne Uwineza, Real Cleaning Company managing director, says the firm gives each new staff protective gear, but most of them lose them.

Showing no value

“We don’t have a store to keep these materials and redistribute them every morning. So we decided that  workers keep themselves. Sometimes, they show up at work empty handed yet we provided them with the gear,” Uwineza explained.

Prior to acquiring licenses to operate, companies are required to have the equipment including cars, boots, gloves, mouth masks, uniforms and effective environmentally friendly bags.

Mugabo said that 23 urban sectors of the city each have at least one waste collecting company. Some of the companies operating in the city are AGRUNI, Baheza, Real Cleaning Company, Real Environment, COECEN, COPED and Ubumwe Cleaning Company.

The companies are paid by households on a monthly basis, with payments ranging from Rwf3,000 to 10,000 a month and the garbage is collected on a weekly basis for most companies.

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