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Handling COVID biomedical waste critical to prevent future epidemics

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In the run up to World Ecology Day (November 1), Satyendra Johari, Founder & Chairman, Johari Digital Healthcare warns that the rise in biomedical waste due to the COVID pandemic has led to an immediate threat of unsafe disposal of healthcare waste that will pollute the environment as well as pose a risk of infectious diseases such as hepatitis, cholera, typhoid, and respiratory complications. Therefore the proper use of medical waste disinfectant equipment by hospitals and medical centres is the need of the hour to contain a future epidemic

One of the biggest challenges today is to maintain an equilibrium between growth and ecological balance. In the quest for modern amenities and comfort, we often forget about Mother Nature who has given us all, and we all have seen the wrath of nature during natural calamities. It is important, therefore, to scout for sustainable growth. Many companies and businesses today are adopting policies that do not hurt the environment, processes which are eco-friendly.

The medical and healthcare sector produces a lot of waste which is a potential environment and human health hazard. The sector produces massive amounts of waste generated in the form of disposable medical products like used PPE kits, blood-soaked bandages, discarded surgical gloves, instruments and needles. As per a report, in March 2020 alone when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, 3.48 lakh kg of bio-medical waste was generated, averaging 11,230 kg daily in Mumbai city.

Scientific disposal of biomedical waste by segregation, collection, and treatment in an environmentally sound manner helps in minimising the adverse impact on health workers and on the environment at large. As per the Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules 2016, all hospitals are required to put in place a mechanism to effectively dispose of waste either direct or via common biomedical waste treatment and disposal facilities.

Hospitals servicing above 1000 patients/month are required to obtain authorisation to segregate biomedical waste into multiple categories. They are required to install microwave technology-based medical waste disinfectant. The disinfectant process treats the medical waste and converts it into normal waste. Earlier in the year, as we faced a shortage of PPE kits for COVID, this process successfully treated the used kits and made it fit for reuse.

Many developed countries use advanced technology to treat their medical waste by steam-sterilisation or chemically disinfection, before disposing it as general waste. Specifically talking about India, the quantum of waste generated in India is near, 1-2 kg per bed per day in a hospital. Around 85 per cent of hospital waste is non-hazardous, but the remaining 15 per cent is infectious/hazardous for humans and as well as the environment. Hence, it is imperative to segregate and treat the waste to minimise its ill-effects. Any improper disposal of medical waste can lead to a risk of infection.

The rise in medical waste due to the pandemic has worsened the problem at hand, and there is an immediate threat of unsafe disposal of healthcare waste that may create an environmental crisis. Unsafe disposal of healthcare waste not only pollutes the environment but also poses a risk of infectious diseases such as hepatitis, cholera, typhoid, and respiratory complications, which are mainly caused by the reusing of the disposal of medical equipment or by scavenging the medical waste, as reported in different countries.

Effective biomedical waste management is critical as it can adversely affect the health of humans. Proper segregation, safe storage, and disposal of waste are key to the effective management of biomedical waste. Segregation of waste plays a serious role in improved biomedical waste management. It is important to scale back the quantity of infectious waste otherwise the quantum of waste will surpass the control of management. Proper use of medical waste disinfectant equipment by hospitals and medical centres is the need of the hour to contain a future epidemic.

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