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  • Writer's pictureJsl Editorial Team

Medical Waste

Health care workers help to save lives but in the process, they also generate harmful wastes. Here in Nigeria, we often see medical wastes arriving at landfills alongside general wastes. This is dangerous. It is important to have safe and environment- friendly medical waste management options, to protect people from the hazards related to the collection, handling, storage, transportation, treatment or disposal of medical wastes.

Medical waste as defined by the Controlled Waste (England and Wales) 2012 Regulations state that it is any waste partly or wholly made up of:

1. Waste from a healthcare activity including veterinary healthcare

2. Waste of a similar nature from a non-healthcare activity

Clinical waste is produced mainly by healthcare sector (hospitals, dental practices and nursing homes, zoological institutes, blood banks, veterinary practices, acupuncturists, tattooists, piercists, laboratories and research centres.

Clinical wastes could be:

a. Infectious wastes: such as wastes from autopsies, infected animals from laboratories, used swabs and blood-soaked bandages. These should be treated before disposal and they are to be handled with care.

b. Pathological waste: such as animal carcasses, human tissues, organs, human fetuses, blood and body fluids.

c. Sharp wastes: such as syringes, needles and disposable scalpels. These can puncture and infect the handlers.

d. Chemical wastes: including solvents, sterilants and heavy metals found in medical equipment (e.g. mercury in broken thermometers).

e. Pharmaceutical wastes: expired or contaminated drugs and vaccines.

f. Cytotoxic wastes: such as drugs used for cancer treatments and their products.

g. Radioactive wastes: radioactive diagnostic materials and radio therapeutic materials.

h. Non-hazardous wastes: these are general non-medical wastes that make up 85 of all wastes generated in medical facilities. These do not pose particular biological, chemical, radioactive or physical hazards and they should be disposed of like general wastes.

Methods of health care waste management include:

1. Incineration; the controlled method of burning wastes,

2. Chemical disinfection; the use of disinfection to kill or inactivate pathogens on medical equipment, floors and walls,

3. Autoclaving; a process of treatment involving wet thermal disinfection,

4. Encapsulation; a process used to reduce access to hazardous health-care wastes for scavengers and stray animals. It involves filling high density polyethylene or metallic drums up to two-thirds with sharps, chemical or pharmaceutical wastes. The remaining one-third is filled willed mortar, dried and sealed up before disposal,

5. Inertization; this involves mixing wastes with cement and other substances before disposal. It helps to reduce contamination of surface or groundwater with such wastes, and

6. Land disposal; this involves wastes disposal rather than treatment either in open dumps or sanitary landfills. Sanitary landfills have an advantage over open dumps as open dumps pose the risk of disease transmission while sanitary landfills are scientific and designed for the disposal of hazardous wastes.

Wastes containers for segregating medical wastes should be colour coded as follows:

Quick facts about medical wastes:

Up to 5.9 million tons of medical wastes are generated yearly.

About 85% of all medical waste are general wastes.

About 16 billion injections are used yearly.

We use about 2 million needles daily.

The city of Wuhan, China saw about 500% increase in medical wastes during the Coronavirus outbreak in 2019.

Anything contaminated with body fluids becomes medical wastes.

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