Ombudsman fights from victims’ corner, looks to parly for enforcement
Barely a kilometre from the nearest village to the Maluba-lube dumpsite in Teyateyaneng, Berea, are hoards of sealed containers of medical waste dumped in a not-fully-fenced dumpsite by the hospitals based in Berea district.
It has been almost three years since two children died after eating fatal stuff from Maluba-lube dumpsite but hazardous medical and infectious waste continues to be dumped on the site as hungry people from the nearby Ha-Ramachini village continue to forage for something to eat.
The MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism’s visit to the site confirmed that medical hazardous and infectious waste such as used blood vials, syringes, hazmat suits and medications in sealed bottles are strewn along sides of the site’s winding road. The Maluba-lube dumpsite sits atop a mountain, waiting to claim lives.
The Ombudsman, Advocate, Teboho Mokoko, is now turning to Parliament to endorse his call for something to be done to manage what is being dumped on the site and to control public access to it.
The Ombudsman’s office approached the Parliament with the initial Report May 2021 noting that the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftainship has been “uncooperative despite several attempts by the investigating officer to resolve this matter in an amicable way”.
Following the Ministry’s refusal as per the Report to implement the Ombudsman Recommendations, a special report was then submitted to Parliament this year in January 2022 to urge the government to intervene.
However, when approached for comment, the ministry’s information officer, Tseliso Mohloai, said that waste management is the responsibility of the Berea Urban Council. He said the council had a budget for this.
Mohloai told MNN that medical trash has been a major problem in the Berea district, particularly after their own investigations proved that medical facilities are dumping their medical waste at the Maluba Lube dumping site. Mohloai stated that they expect that the ministry’s budget for 2021/2022 will assist them in addressing these concerns.
Mohloai said that the Berea Town Clerk should be able to shed further light as “they are the ones who have an idea of how far they are with issues”.
When contacted, the Berea Town Clerk, Nkhabo Thamae, stated that in response to the Ombudsman office’s 2019 recommendations, the council implemented various initiatives, including the excavation of a solid waste pit and the deployment of a guard at the dumpsite. However, due to a lack of funding, the council was unable to take any further action.
MNN was sent Thamae’s report on this. It states: “The council also in its budget for 2020/2021 budgeted for fencing, installation of the gate and maintenance of a guardhouse. Due to limited funds, the council procured material instead of engaging a contractor…”
Thamae said the new fencing installed after the Ombudsman’s report, was damaged by the villagers. Thamae shared a report that her office submitted to parliament as proof that the Ombudsman’s recommendations were implemented.
“Movement into the dumpsite was controlled by deploying a guard at the entrance who is responsible for registering vehicles entering into the dumpsite,” reads the report but its contents do not depict the picture on the ground.
A visit to the dumpsite in early February this year presented a different sight.
MNN observed how the vehicles were not even examined at entry into the dumpsite and were only asked to register upon their return, leaving spaces for false information and unreliable waste management registration.
Not only has appropriate fencing and guardhouse maintenance been neglected, but the so-called gate is merely a gate by name, with gaping wide empty areas in between.
The three hospitals in the Berea area, including Berea District Hospital, Centre for Equal Health Access to All Lesotho (CEHAL) Hospital and Maluti Adventist Hospital all deny dumping their medical waste at Maluba-lube.
Director of CEHAL Hospital, Doctor Daniel Kiyanga said: “All of our infectious waste is taken in special containers to Berea Hospital [to be incinerated] while domestic waste is burnt in our incinerator…I have no idea if Berea Hospital is taking hazardous material to the dumpsite.”
Ellen Luthango, Maluti Adventist Hospital’s Quality Improvement Oﬃcer said: “We incinerate our medical waste and only take its ash to the dumpsite…however, even ash can be harmful so we need a pit to bury it. Our waste management has become more complicated because all surrounding clinics also bring their hazardous waste here. With our small incinerator, we now have to cater for other medical facilities.”
According to MNN investigations, for the most part, hospitals in the vicinity send their infectious and hazardous waste to Berea Hospital to be incinerated. However, the incinerator has been out of commission. Berea District Hospital’s Medical Superintendent, Dr. Didier Lubuma, said he was surprised at questions about Berea Hospital taking their waste to the dumping site. He said that although the hospital’s medical incinerator, where hazardous medical waste is safely disposed of, had not been working for months, arrangements were in place for the hospital to take its medical waste to other places in Maseru.
Lumuba said: “We segregate our waste into three categories: ordinary, hazardous, and infectious waste. Every day, our cleaner collects refuse from several departments and transports it to the incinerator, which has been inoperable for about four months… As a result, our waste is now being transported to other locations… However, this is insufficient because our hospital generates waste on a daily basis.”
While the medical waste on the dumpsite cannot be traced specifically to any hospital because it is discarded without being marked and because the torn up patient papers don’t display hospital details, medical waste is being dumped there daily. For example, on a visit to the dump MNN came come across a pile of sealed 350 grams containers bearing a blue sticker marked Barium Sulfate which according to, Mayo, a global research clinic, is a radiographic contrast agent, used to help diagnose or find problems in the oesophagus, stomach and bowels and “must be given only by or under supervision of a doctor”.
The illegal dumping of hazardous medical waste poses a grave danger to the community who are able to get into the dump easily as it is inadequately fenced or guarded and who are desperate to lay their hands on anything that could help them survive a day.
Deadly or life-saving meal?
Meanwhile, the families of the two siblings, aged nine and six, are still grieving the death of the two children who were looking for food with a friend on the dumpsite in 2019. The siblings were also with a friend that day who was treated in the Berea District Hospital and was lucky to survive.
Grandmother of the two siblings, Malimakatso Ranthabo (59), buries her face in her hands and her piercing wails ripple across the village as she battles to bring herself to tell the story of what happened that day.
“It was getting late when I was still cutting and fetching wood for another woman, oblivious to the fact that the news of the children was already making the rounds on radio, but no one notified me,” said Ranthabo.
A family member had already caught wind of the bad news but was afraid to share them with Ranthabo.
Very late in the evening, Ranthabo was visited by two persons, one of them she knew worked at the mortuary.
“They inquired as to whether I knew where the children were,” she said.
Oblivious of what was about to happen, Ranthabo told them she was unaware of the children’s whereabouts as she was busy collecting firewood.
“They told me the children were in the hospital after eating something poisonous from the dumping site, and one of them had died,” said Ranthabo.
Attempts by the MNN to get the children’s hospital records or the official cause of death were unsuccessful because by the time their bodies were discovered, they were no longer alive.
The Ombudsman’s report that was made amid investigations into the deaths of two siblings, suggests that the children had eaten “contaminated food” from the dumpsite but also goes on to mention that infectious and hazardous waste from hospitals found at the dumpsite posed a very serious health hazard.
“Waste from the hospital classified as infectious and sharps was also dumped on the site. This waste consisted of items such as needles, tablets, syringes, used cotton wool, bottles containing expired and half used medications,” reads the report.
While authorities wait for budgets to secure and manage the site so that it is safe, communities who live near the site continue to refer to the place as “Usave” which is a reference to Usave supermarket, a chain store under the Shoprite Group of companies. Poverty stricken people, including the children, continue to be drawn to the site for means of scoring their next meal or something valuable.