The World Health Organization (WHO) in a press release noted that tens of thousands of tonnes of extra medical waste from the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has put tremendous strain on health care waste management systems around the world, threatening human and environmental health and exposing a dire need to improve waste management practices.
The report stated that the volume of waste consists of tonnes of personal protective equipment (PPE), plastic, disposable medical masks, syringes, needles, and safety boxes.
It said that as the UN and countries grappled with the immediate task of securing and quality-assuring supplies of PPE, less attention and resources were devoted to the safe and sustainable management of COVID-19 related health care waste.
“It is absolutely vital to provide health workers with the right PPE, “said Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director, WHO Health Emergencies Program. “But it is also vital to ensure that it can be used safely without impacting on the surrounding environment.”
It also noted that having effective management systems in place, including guidance for health workers on what to do with PPE and health commodities after they have been used, cannot be over-emphasized.
Furthermore, the report said 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.
Additionally, the report said the waste 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.
“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 of our health care resources, from cradle to grave,” said Dr. Maria Neira, Director, Environment, Climate Change and Health at WHO.
Edited by Jesus Chan
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