Medical Waste Collectors: Cambodia’s Unseen Front-Line Workers

There is an audible crunch underfoot — the distinct sound of a syringe shattering — but Nguon Sokheng pays it no mind. After all, he has been working at Phnom Penh’s Dangkor landfill site for 10 years. Crushing medical waste under his sandals is commonplace.

As he navigates the litter-strewn warehouse floor and heads toward an industrial incinerator with two yellow plastic bags bearing biohazard symbols, one bag splits and a slew of medical refuse pours out onto the floor. Armed with little more than red rubber gloves and a face mask, Sokheng scoops up the spilled pile of gloves, bandages and assorted bottles with his hands before tossing them into the incinerator.

“We need better equipment,” he says as he shuts the incinerator doors. “These gloves are so thin, they rip easily. We’re always so close to all this medical waste. I don’t know which bits are dangerous, which ones are infectious. Any single piece might endanger our lives, especially when we’re working by hand.”

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