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WHO warns about the danger posed by COVID-19 medical effluents to the environment

WHO warns about the danger posed by COVID-19 medical effluents to the environment

Turkeys environmental stewardship in 2022 and beyond

Tuesday’s warning by the World Health Organization (WHO), was that the large amount of waste generated in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic poses a threat to both human and environmental health.

According to a WHO report, the tens of thousand of tons of medical waste added had put a tremendous strain on healthcare waste management systems.

According to the United Nations health agency, the extra waste “poses a threat human and environmental health” and calls for better waste management practices.

The WHO stated that countries were scrambling to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE), in order to deal with the crisis. However, less attention was paid, according to the WHO, to disposing of COVID-19 medical waste safely and sustainably.

The report examined the 1.5 billion units of PPE, approximately 87,000 tonnes of which were procured between March 2020 to November 2021. This is a small fraction from the global total.

According to the WHO, most of this equipment is likely to end up as waste.

“It’s vital to provide the right PPE for health workers. It is important to ensure that the PPE can be used safely and without causing any damage to the environment,” Michael Ryan, WHO emergency director.

Additionally, more than 140 million test kits were shipped. This has the potential to produce 2,600 tons of mostly plastic, non-infectious, waste and 731,000 liters chemical waste.

According to the report, 97% of plastic waste resulting from tests are incinerated.

The first eight billion COVID-19 vaccinations worldwide produced 144,000 tons of additional waste, including safety boxes, needles, and syringes.

While the WHO does NOT recommend using gloves to administer vaccine injections, the WHO report did state that it is a common practice.

According to the report, gloves account for the largest proportion of PPE waste among all items procured from the U.N.

Practical solutions

The 71-page report warned of the lack of safe management services for healthcare waste even before the pandemic.

The most recent data from 2019 showed that one third of healthcare facilities in the world did not safely handle healthcare waste. In 46 countries least developed, more than two thirds of healthcare facilities did so.

According to the WHO, this could lead to needle stick injuries, burns, and pathogenic microorganisms in health workers. It can also impact communities living near poorly-managed landfills or waste disposal sites by contaminated air from burning waste, poor drinking water quality, and disease-carrying pests.

The report suggested practical solutions such as using PPE in a more rational way, using less packaging, developing reusable PPE, using PPE made from biodegradable material, investing in non-burnable waste treatment technology; centralizing waste administration; and investing locally in PPE production.

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It stated that “Resolving environmental concerns doesn’t mean compromising safety.”

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