COVID-19 Medical Waste A Great Threat To Health And Environment : WHO


COVID-19 medical waste is a great threat to our health and environment. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), medical waste comes from multiple sources generation including COVID testing kits, disposable syringes, disposable gloves, vaccine bottles, PPE kits, masks, sanitiser bottles etc. According to an estimate, a total of 87,000 tonnes of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) have been ordered till November 2021. In addition to this, the amount of plastic and cardboard boxes used in packing has been rising since the onset of the pandemic.

According to the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) in the five Asian cities, the amount of healthcare waste was 3.4 Kg/bed/day during the pandemic. Before pandemic, the value ranged from 0.2 – 0.5 Kg/bed/day.

Why Medical Waste Is Hazardous ?

As per the reports by WHO, there is an increase of about 60% in medical waste in poor countries during the pandemic. One of the main causes is the less defined equipment to manage waste in these countries. If we focus on numbers then the data values are terrifying. For e.g, around 140 million testing kits is equivalent to 2,600 tonnes of plastic waste.

Till now, around 9 billion doses of vaccine have been administered globally which generated 144,000 tonnes of waste via glass vials, syringes, needles and boxes. Along with the usage, it has been shown that 1/3rd of PPE is wasted because of mishandling. As per global data, 1,15,000 health workers have lost their lives due to the pandemic.

Another reason that medical waste is dangerous as it can lead to the spreading of Coronavirus. Medical equipment used on COVID positive persons has the tendency to spread the infection. The people who are at maximum risk include health workers working under constant threat of reinfection. When the waste reaches the landfill, if not disposed of well can contaminate land, water and air.

Recommendations By WHO :

To address the problem, WHO recommended the usage of eco-friendly packaging and shipping, safe and reusable PPE, gloves and medical masks, recyclable or biodegradable materials. The recycling sector ensures materials like plastics can have a second life. To achieve this, national policies and regulations are important. From time to time checking with regular monitoring is required.

Since the onset of the pandemic, WHO stated that extra procedures beyond normal classification into infectious and non-infectious are not needed for waste from covid-19 patients. In May 2017, the Delhi government classified all medical wastes as COVID waste and it multiplied 4 times than normal. Due to this, medical wastes from other highly infectious diseases went neglected and can lead to other complications.

We all are already facing multiple issues related to the environment and the pandemic is surely adding fuel to it. So we have to remember that to solve one issue intensifying another one is not a eco-friendly solution.