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Can we make medical waste disposal more sustainable?

Medical waste is a byproduct of providing health services and is potentially harmful to both the environment and human health. Asian developing countries are densely populated, and some are highly resource constrained. These countries commonly fail to practice appropriate healthcare waste management. Among the different type of health care waste,

Medical waste is any kind of waste that contains any type of the material that may be contaminated with potentially infectious properties. Infectious properties can be found in syringes delivering medications or chemotherapy. They can be found in bedding, bandages, or clothing contaminated with blood or bodily fluids of a person infected with a communicable disease.

Medical waste is a threat to global public environmental health, especially in the lower-middle-income countries. Medical waste management is a concern of healthcare facilities all over the world; about 10-20% of the facility’s budget every year is spent on waste disposal. According to the WHO, about 85% of the total amount of generated waste is non hazardous but the remaining 15% is considered infectious, toxic or radioactive. Worldwide, it is estimated that at least 5·2 million people, including 4 million children, die each year because of diseases related to unmanaged medical waste.

While non-hazardous medical waste poses less problems, the risks and challenges of hazardous medical waste management must be considered carefully, since incineration or open burning of hazardous medical waste can result in emissions of dangerous pollutants such as dioxins and furans. For this reason, measures must be taken to ensure safe disposal of hazardous medical waste waste in order to prevent negative impact on the environment or biological hazards.

Improper disposal of medical waste poses huge threats on humans and animals’ health. It includes mutations in animals, cancer and other serious diseases affecting humans, as well as the destruction of our world’s natural resources. Diseases threatening humans will be especially dangerous to children, as their bodies are still more vulnerable and developing. Hazardous medical waste like mercury and lead builds up over time, and can lead seizures, and even death.

Apart from humans and animals’ life, biomedical waste also causes environmental problems. Soil, air, as well aquatic and wildlife are all affected by hazardous garbage generated each day by industries. The main danger of the former is water pollution. Medical chemical waste can pour into our water supplies, making lakes, rivers, and streams unfit to use as everyday resources, or for agricultural purposes. The contamination cycle continues, as wildlife sickens and dies when drinking water affected by hazardous medical waste, not to mention people living downstream of such water.

We have to manage healthcare waste sustainably. Prior to disposal, waste items should undergo a variety of treatment processes, to simultaneously minimise potential public health threats and reduce the damage to the environment. While the choice of treatment depends largely on the waste characteristics, immediate environment of the disposal facility and its impact on public and planetary health, the most common ones include: mechanical treatment, such as shredding and grinding; chemical treatment, which involves the use of disinfectants; and steam sterilisation such as using autoclaves in order to destroy pathogens. In the long term, we can protect our health and environment through improved employee training, educating patients and hospitals, and investing in proper hospital waste management solutions.

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