Tonnes of Covid medical waste posing health hazard, warns WHO

Medical waste
Medical waste
Photo credit: SHUTTERSTOCK

What you need to know:

  • Out of the 87,000 tonnes of PPEs purchased through the UN portal between March 2020 and November 2021, a large segment ended up as waste, according to WHO.
  • The WHO  report further illustrates that at least 44,000 tonnes of waste such as syringes, glass vials, safety boxes and needles have emanated from eight billion vaccine shots administered worldwide.

Investing in modern waste treatment technology could safeguard the world against catastrophic repercussions resulting from extensive amounts of accumulated medical waste, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

 A new report released by WHO has called upon nations to put in place additional investments on non-burn technology in waste management systems.

In efforts to safeguard human health and environment welfare from the adverse effects of medical waste, the agency has urged for a more rational approach towards the use of personal protective equipment (PPEs) as well as reduction in the use of packaging,

The latest report by the global health agency has warned that efforts to contain the Covid-19 scourge could have disastrous aftermaths on human health and environment welfare as a result of medical waste that is drastically piling up.

Out of the 87,000 tonnes of PPEs purchased through the UN portal between March 2020 and November 2021, a large segment ended up as waste, according to WHO.

The report further illustrates that at least 44,000 tonnes of waste such as syringes, glass vials, safety boxes and needles have emanated from eight billion vaccine shots administered worldwide. What is more, over 140 million test kits have been deployed with capacity to generate up to 2,600 tonnes of plastic waste that can fill a third of an Olympic swimming pool as indicated in the report. 

The agency has raised the alarm over the dire state of waste management systems crippling the healthcare sector worldwide. According to WHO Emergencies Director Michael Ryan, medical waste including old vaccine bottles, discarded syringes, used test kits to mention but a few, have piled up immensely over the recent days; immobilising the healthcare systems.

In an alarming twist, the study revealed that gloves usage by medics while administering coronavirus jabs is a common practice despite it not being recommended by WHO. For instance, it is approximated that every health worker in the UK discards 50 pairs of gloves on average into the general waste system on weekly basis.

“Although it is extremely important for health workers to be provided with the right PPE, it is equally extremely important to make sure the tools can be used in a safe manner that does not impact on the surrounding environment,” offered Ryan.

The Emergencies Director cautioned that discarded medical wastes are hazardous to medics who bear the brunt of infections through disease causing germs.

Also endangered are populations that live near poorly-managed landfills as they are affected through pests that transmit diseases, water pollution as well as air pollution and contamination by burning waste.

The report did not specify areas currently facing waste build-ups. Instead, it delved on challenges regarding waste treatment and disposal sites.

Madagascar, for example, has been grappling with large volumes of faecal sludge from its quarantine facilities.

On the other hand, rural areas in India lack sufficient official management sites for both waste management and disposal.

WHO has called upon world powers to put in place reforms and additional investments measures to safeguard human health and the environment at large.


 

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