Proper Healthcare Waste Management during COVID-19


An effective healthcare waste management is necessary to cope better with significant increase in healthcare waste associated with disasters, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

The current COVID-19 pandemic raises concerns on healthcare waste management, as medical front-liners need to utilise medical supplies to fight the fast-spreading disease.

Healthcare waste refers to waste generated by healthcare facilities, medical laboratories and biomedical research facilities.

It can be categorised under sharp waste, pathological waste, other infectious wastes, pharmaceutical waste including cytotoxic waste, hazardous chemical waste, radioactive waste, and general (non-risk) waste.

At large, healthcare facilities produce 75 to 90 percent of non-risk (non-infectious, non-hazardous) general waste.

With the ongoing pandemic, however, there have been an increasing number of infectious wastes – wastes that are suspected to contain pathogens like disease-causing viruses in sufficient concentration or quantity to cause infection in susceptible hosts.

“Improper treatment and disposal of healthcare waste poses serious hazards of secondary disease transmission due to exposures to infectious agents among waste pickers, waste workers, health workers, patients, and the community in general where waste is improperly disposed,” said Keith Alverson, Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) International Environmental Technology Centre in Osaka, Japan in a UNEP interview.

Thus, an effective healthcare waste management is necessary, especially when complemented with rapid response guidelines for real-time emergency operations, to cope better with significant increase in healthcare waste associated with disasters, including pandemics.

To assess and decide on appropriate technologies to deal with diverse forms of healthcare waste, governments, health organisations and countries in general can refer to the Compendium of Technologies for Treatment/Destruction of Healthcare Waste.

Published by the International Environmental Technology Centre, “the compendium provides a robust methodology for analysing local healthcare waste generation, composition and disposal needs and selecting appropriate technologies as part of a local waste management system,” described Mr Alverson.

“It can help those with responsibility for planning and managing the significant increase in medical waste as a result of this global pandemic,” he added.

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