Safe disposal of medical waste - throwing away isn’t enough
13 December 2021
The story is under the project "Learning from Experience to Improve Responding to COVID-19 in Asia and the Pacific Region"
With the widespread impact of the pandemic, proper waste disposal becomes critical. At the central level, in field hospitals, and quarantine facilities- all are faced with a high amount of infectious waste increase during the pandemic. Numbers of sports complexes, stadiums, schools, and dormitories were repurposed into isolation and quarantine facilities to accommodate more and more people. General and infectious wastes are being generated from these facilities, hence, the capacity to manage wastes has to be enhanced.
Dr. Bouakham Tounnalom, Deputy Director of Hygiene Management Division, Ministry of Health has been working to support sanitation, water and waste management for almost 3 decades. Her main areas of responsibility include environmental cleaning, water, sanitation & hygiene, health care waste management and health impact assessment, as a result of being surrounded by heavy construction such as mining, and the health of factory workers across the provinces.
Dr. Bouakham, with her accumulated years of experience, has provided training and workshops on wastewater sanitation and general waste management throughout the country. Although Dr. Bouakham went through general medical studies and has never formally received specialized training in this field, she was assigned to support the unit once she joined the Ministry. In addition to learning on the job, she received training both locally and internationally to enhance her skills for this job.
Dr. Bouakham reflected, “waste collection, treatment, transport and disposal systems have limited capacity. Waste collection companies have to ensure proper use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), preventive measures and need to increase their frequency of picking up waste every week. Protocols and contracts have been signed to ensure safety measures are put into place for such services.”
She adds that both solid and liquid wastes require immediate safe treatment and disposal in some quarantine and isolation facilities. “We can’t just let the wastewater flow out into the environment without a proper treatment system,” said Dr. Bouakham.
With solid waste, WHO has provided technical support in developing guidance, training materials, and autoclaves to disinfect/treat infectious waste before further disposal. The maximum loading capacity is an average of 50-85 kilograms. Normally, the autoclave can load one- or two times, but during COVID-19 response, with the increase of waste amount, the autoclave now needs to operate two to three times per day.
Not only has the volume of wastes increased but also the types of waste, particularly single-use items. For hygiene reasons, most facilities use single-use foam containers for meals that were delivered to patients or individuals. These single-use products, including plastic water bottles, are snowballing during the pandemic and there are many challenges to safely dispose these items without causing environmental pollution and human health impacts.
These issues are only a small portion of what the government and its development partners are dealing with in order to respond to the rising medical waste demands. As part of the Learning from Experience to Improve Responding to COVID-19 in Asia and the Pacific Region project funded by the People’s Republic of China, UNDP will provide technical support for Laos to upgrade the medical waste treatment system in the receiving hospitals, provide technical support for medical personnel, grass-roots civil servants and other key posts to enhance their capabilities.
As the largest developing country, the People’s Republic of China is a firm supporter, active participant, and important contributor to South-South Cooperation. UNDP appreciates being a partner to both thePeople’s Republic of China and Lao PDR to support improved medical waste management.
The above-mentioned project has received support from the South-South Cooperation Assistance Funds (SSCAF), to strengthen the preparedness and responding capacity at the Asia-Pacific regional level. UNDP will collaborate with WHO in Lao PDR, MoH and MICT and several Chinese counterparts to provide advocacy, information sharing and communication support on protection against COVID-19 and its response for people in poverty and vulnerable groups - to ensure that they are not left behind and can equally benefit from the interventions to stay safe and healthy.