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01.02.2022 18:12 News >> Thousands Of Tons Of COVID-19 Waste Another Pandemic Challenge, Warns WHO

Thousands Of Tons Of COVID-19 Waste Another Pandemic Challenge, Warns WHO

Global health waste management systems under tremendous pressure, human health, environment at risk, says new WHO report.

Tens of thousands of tons of extra medical waste from the COVID-19 pandemic response have put global health waste management systems under tremendous pressure, threatening human and environmental health, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.
"Gloves are a bigger volume than masks, and vaccine waste is taking over from masks as vaccinations increase," Maggie Montgomery, a WHO water and sanitation technical officer, said at a UN news conference.
She said countries are experiencing a dire need to improve waste management practices due to the personal protective equipment (PPE) coming from the health sector and the public.
As of last November, some 1.5 billion units of PPE, weighing approximately 87,000 tons, had been distributed across WHO regions, according to the UN agency's report, Global Analysis of Health Care Waste in the Context of COVID-19.
The figure gives an initial indication of the scale of the COVID-19 waste problem, said the report, which does not take into account other pandemic-related commodities nor waste generated by the public, including disposable medical masks.
"In addition, more than 140 million test kits … with a potential to generate 2,600 tons of general waste (mainly plastic) and 731,000 liters of chemical waste – an equivalent of one third of an Olympic-size swimming pool – have been shipped," the report added.
Over 8 billion doses of vaccine administered globally produced 144,000 tons of additional waste in syringes, needles and safety boxes, it added.
As the UN and countries grappled with the immediate task of ensuring supplies of quality PPE, less attention and resources were devoted to the safe and sustainable management of COVID-19 related healthcare waste, read a WHO statement.
"It is vital to provide health workers with the right PPE," said Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program.
"But it is also vital to ensure that it can be used safely without impacting on the surrounding environment."
Effective management systems in place, including guidance for health workers on what to do with PPE and health commodities after use, are needed, the statement said.
"Today, 30% of healthcare facilities (60% in the least developed countries) are not equipped to handle existing waste loads, excluding the additional COVID-19 load," it said, adding that the waste "potentially exposes health workers to needle stick injuries, burns, and pathogenic microorganisms."
Living near landfills
This also impacts communities living near poorly managed landfills and waste disposal sites through contaminated air from burning waste, poor water quality or disease-carrying pests, the WHO warned.
"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 the cradle to the grave," said Maria Neira, environment and climate change director at the WHO.
"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."
The report recommends integrating better, safer and more environmentally sustainable waste practices into the current COVID-19 response and future pandemic preparedness efforts.
"Recommendations include using eco-friendly packaging and shipping, safe and reusable PPE (e.g., gloves and medical masks), recyclable or biodegradable materials; investment in non-burn waste treatment technologies, such as autoclaves; reverse logistics to support centralized treatment and investments in the recycling sector to ensure materials, like plastics, can have a second life," the global agency said.​​​​​​​ -



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