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Friday, September 30, 2022
HomeHealthCOVID-19 Pandemic Straining Country Waste Management Systems

COVID-19 Pandemic Straining Country Waste Management Systems

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has cried foul over tens of thousands of tonnes of extra medical waste from the COVID-19 response, exposing a dire need to improve waste management practices.

In a report, WHO said that the United Nations and countries grappled with the immediate task of securing and quality-assuring supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) less attention and resources were devoted to the safe and sustainable management of COVID-19 related health care waste.

WHO Health Emergencies Programme, Executive Director Michael Ryan said vital to ensure that medical waste can be used and disposed of safely.

“It is absolutely vital to provide health workers with the right PPE but it is also vital to ensure that it can be used safely without impacting on the surrounding environment,” said Ryan.

WHO Global analysis of health care waste in the context of COVID-19: status, impacts, and recommendations base its estimates on the approximately 87,000 tonnes of personal protective equipment (PPE) that was procured between March 2020- November 2021 and shipped to support countries’ urgent COVID-19 response needs through a joint UN emergency initiative. Most of this equipment is expected to have ended up as waste.

Today, 30% of healthcare facilities (60% in the least developed countries) are not equipped to handle existing waste loads, let alone the additional COVID-19 load. This potentially exposes health workers to needle stick injuries, burns and pathogenic microorganisms, while also impacting communities living near poorly managed landfills and waste disposal sites through contaminated air from burning waste, poor water quality, or disease-carrying pests.

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Director, Environment, Climate Change and Health at WHO Dr Maria Neira said COVID-19 has forced the world to reckon with the gaps and neglected aspects of the waste stream and how we produce, use and discard our health care resources, from cradle to grave.

“Significant change at all levels, from the global to the hospital floor, in how we manage the health care waste stream is a basic requirement of climate-smart health care systems, which many countries committed to at the recent UN Climate Change Conference, and, of course, a healthy recovery from COVID-19 and preparedness for other health emergencies in the future, ” said Neira.

COVID-19 waste challenge and increasing urgency to address environmental sustainability offer an opportunity to strengthen systems to safely and sustainably reduce and manage health care waste. This can be through strong national policies and regulations, regular monitoring and reporting and increased accountability, behavior change support and workforce development, and increased budgets and financing.

Dr Mandeep Dhaliwal, Director HIV Health and Development, UNDP also said that waste management is an integral part of the supply chain, as a result of the use and expiry of health products.

“Inadequate and inappropriate handling of health-care waste can have serious public health and environmental consequences and can significantly impact on the health of people and planet,” he added.

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140 million test kits, with a potential to generate 2,600 tonnes of non-infectious waste (mainly plastic) and 731,000 litres of chemical waste (equivalent to one-third of an Olympic-size swimming pool) have been shipped, while over 8 billion doses of vaccine have been administered globally producing 144,000 tonnes of additional waste in the form of syringes, needles, and safety boxes.

The COVID-19 waste challenge and increasing urgency to address environmental sustainability offer an opportunity to strengthen systems to safely and sustainably reduce and manage health care waste. This can be through strong national policies and regulations, regular monitoring and reporting and increased accountability, behavior change support and workforce development, and increased budgets and financing.

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