Medical wastes piling up as Covid-19 cases keep running
Bangladesh is facing further environmental and public health risks if it fails to tackle the huge surge in medical waste amid coronavirus pandemic.
In the face of coronavirus transmission globally, excessive biomedical waste has become a new threat to public health and the environment.
Poor management of waste poses a large environmental threat and might create a prolonged and unwanted public health hazard and can be a potential source of re-emerging infection, according to a recent article published in the medical journal Lancet.
“Improper handling of hospital waste might aggravate the spread of Sars-CoV-2 to medical staff and people who handle waste,” the article published on August 13 said.
The article was jointly authored by Md Mostafizur Rahman, associate professor of environment sciences at Jahangirnagar University; Mohammed A Mamun, student at the university's public health and informatics department; Md Bodrud-Doza, deputy manager of Climate Change Program at Brac; and Mark D Griffiths, professor of psychology at Nottingham Trent University.
|The emerging biomedical waste catastrophe|
The authors said Bangladesh, which was already struggling with poor medical waste management before the Covid-19 pandemic, has now been hit hard by a sudden increase in the volume of medical waste.
“There might be a serious risk of spreading Sars-CoV-2 if used masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment are not managed and disposed of properly. Additionally, household waste (eg, tissues, masks, gloves) puts waste management workers at increased health risk,” said the Lancet article.
An average of 206.218 tons of waste relating to coronavirus are being produced every day only in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, according to a survey conducted last month.
Even, 49.1% people, who took part in the survey, store Covid-19 wastes in the same container along with other household wastes, exaggerating risks associated with it, the survey by three organizations finds.
On the other hand, a survey by the Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO) in May finds that at least 14,500 tons of waste was generated in April across Bangladesh. The wastes include used gloves, masks, sanitizer containers and polythene.
Currently, 654 government hospitals and 5,055 private hospitals and clinics with 141,903 beds in total, along with an additional 9,061 diagnostic centre beds, are leading to the generation of huge amounts of biomedical waste.
Particularly, the waste collectors or waste management workers, are at a high risk of getting infected with Covid-19 as they work without adequate protection.
No safe system in medical waste management, processing
In Bangladesh, despite the introduction of the Medical Waste Management and Processing Rules in 2008, no safe system has been developed to manage the health-care waste generated daily in hospitals, clinics, and households, the Lancet article says.
“Waste generated inside Bangladeshi hospitals is often collected without any separation by untrained, unprotected, and unaware cleaners, and disposed of in unauthorized places without any separation or proper treatment,” it said.
Capacity of city corporations, third-party organizations, and non-governmental organizations, who manage hospital waste, do not comply with the requirements of a proper, environmentally safe medical waste disposal mechanism, it adds.
The authors suggested a policy-level paradigm shift into a strategic, state-of-the-art medical waste management system because failure in tackling the huge surge in medical waste amid Covid-19 is likely to put Bangladesh at further environmental and public health risk.
Public health specialist Prof Mohammad Abul Faiz stressed on proper management of medical waste because Covid-19 related personal protective equipment used in hospitals may further spread infections.
Ways to avoid the catastrophe
The 2008 guideline for medical waste management and processing only applies for hospitals whereas huge amounts of waste are now also being generated in households and are being mixed with regular waste.
“Currently, many of the symptomatic Covid-19 suspects are avoiding a test while asymptomatic people are also roaming freely. Those who are asymptomatic are dumping their used gloves and masks regularly which are being dumped in regular waste terminals. Those who collect the waste will be in grave danger because of this,” an author of this article and JU Associate Professor Md Mostafizur Rahman told Dhaka Tribune.
Although the formal sector waste collectors get some attention toward health safety, thousands of informal waste collectors remain ignored.
“The huge amount of generated waste is not only an issue of re-emerging infection, but also has risks of environmental degradation if not properly collected and processed,” he said.
“It will not be wise for the management level of stakeholders to ignore the concerns. We need massive awareness building and short term training for waste collectors to minimize the catastrophe of the upcoming disaster,” said the author Mostafizur Rahman.
He emphasized on a joint, immediate and integrated approach by Directorate General of Health Services, city corporations and Department of Environment to strengthen waste management and its processing, and an overall monitoring of the biomedical waste management for the sake of avoiding further environmental and public health risks.