The World Health Organisation (WHO) has taken up the cudgel for environmentalists who have been pleading with the Indian government for years without success to phase out use of mercury based medical instruments in hospitals. "We will speak to specific ministries like Health and Environment and Forests to work on an order directing zero use of mercury-based instruments in government hospitals across the country," said A.K Sengupta, National Professional Officer of WHO-India.
Sengupta was speaking on the sidelines of the South Asian conference on Alternatives to Mercury in Healthcare, which concluded in Delhi on Saturday. Thermometers, blood-pressure measuring instruments and dental amalgam contain the toxic heavy metal mercury, exposing patients and healthcare professionals to health risks.
Mercury is the only heavy metal that evaporates in room temperature. Once exposed, it contaminates the air, and enters human systems through breathing.
"If everything is smooth then ideally it should take a country like India five to seven years to eradicate mercury completely from its healthcare system," he said. The WHO along with Healthcare Without Harm, a US-based pressure group, launched a global campaign on this in the conference.
"But the key countries in the fight are India and China with the most consumption of mercury," said Gary Cohen, Executive Director, HWH..