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WHO warns of Covid medical waste threat



World Health Organization

The World Health Organization warned on Tuesday that the vast amount of waste produced in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic poses a threat to human and environmental health.

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The tens of thousands of tons of additional medical waste have put a huge strain on healthcare waste management systems, the WHO said in a report.

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The additional waste “threatens human and environmental health and exposes a compelling need to improve waste management practices,” the UN health agency said.

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As countries scrambled to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE) to deal with the crisis, less attention has been paid to the safe and sustainable disposal of healthcare waste from Covid-19, the WHO said.

United Nations

The report looked at the 1.5 billion units (approximately 87,000 tonnes) of PPE procured between March 2020 and November 2021 and shipped to countries through the United Nations system, a small fraction of the global total.

Most of this equipment is likely to end up as waste, the WHO said.

Michael Ryan

“It is absolutely vital to provide healthcare workers with the proper personal protective equipment. But it is also vital to ensure that it can be used safely without affecting the surrounding environment,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said.

In addition, more than 140 million test kits have been shipped, with the potential to generate 2,600 tons of non-infectious waste, mainly plastic, and 731,000 liters of chemical waste.

About 97 percent of the plastic waste from testing is incinerated, according to the report.

And the first eight billion doses of the Covid-19 vaccine administered globally produced an additional 144,000 tons of waste, such as syringes, needles and safety deposit boxes.

The WHO does not recommend wearing gloves for vaccine injections, but the report says that appears to be common practice.

Gloves, in volume terms, make up the largest proportion of PPE waste of all items procured by the UN, according to the report.

Practical solutions
The 71-page report warned that safe management services for medical waste were lacking even before the pandemic added further pressures.

The latest available data, from 2019, suggested that one in three healthcare facilities globally did not safely manage healthcare waste, and in the 46 least developed countries, more than two in three facilities did not have a service. basic health care waste management.

“This potentially exposes healthcare workers to needlestick injuries, burns, and pathogenic microorganisms, while also impacting communities living near poorly managed landfills and waste disposal sites through air polluted by burning. waste, poor water quality or disease-carrying pests,” the WHO said. .

The report recommended practical solutions, such as using PPE more rationally; using less packaging; develop reusable PPE; use PPE made from biodegradable materials; invest in unburned waste treatment technology; centralize waste management; and invest in the local production of PPE.

“Addressing environmental concerns does not require compromising safety,” he said.

Source Credit: TheGuardian

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