Threat to human health, environment

Last Updated 30 December 2018, 10:05 IST

Biomedical waste has become a major point of concern these days due to the adverse impacts they have on the environment. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), while 85% of the waste generated from healthcare activities is general and non-hazardous, the remaining 15% is considered to be biohazards as they can be infectious, poisonous and radioactive. This is why it is important to come up with an effective biomedical waste management system. Biomedical waste poses a potential threat to patients, healthcare workers, public and the environment.

Infectious diseases

Biomedical wastes, if not disposed appropriately, may result in the contamination of bacteria that can spread to humans, thereby causing an epidemic and infecting a large number of people. In case medical waste is dumped in a landfill without segregation and waste treatment, harmful microbes can seep into the water supply and contaminate water. WHO estimates that about 16 billion injections are administered across the world every year. However, not all needles and syringes are disposed of properly and this amps up the risk of sharp injuries and increases the chance of contracting HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C virus on reuse.

Open burning of biomedical waste can never be an option to deal with the crisis as incineration of healthcare waste can lead to the release of dioxins, furans and particulate matters. Burning of this waste could also result in the emission of chemical and biological hazards like drug-resistant microorganisms into the environment.

Understanding the importance of effective management of biomedical waste, the Government of India, in a 1998 notification, included hospital waste management as a part of the hospital hygiene and maintenance activities. Waste collection, segregation, safe transportation, proper treatment and disposal, transport to the final disposal site and final waste disposal are the six steps that form an integral part of hospital waste management.

Hospitals are working on strategies to enhance the quality of waste segregation and disposal practices in order to meet national and international standards. Steps have been taken to replace medical waste incineration with safer and environment-friendly options of waste treatment like autoclaving, microwaving, steam treatment along with internal mixing and chemical treatment.

Although it is a long-term process, it is essential that we successfully build a broad system that would address resource allocation, handling and disposal. In order to successfully segregate biomedical wastes, it is essential to know how these wastes can be classified. WHO categorises these wastes into eight broad categories that include general, pathological, radioactive, chemical, infectious, sharps, pharmaceuticals and pressurised container wastes.

Raising awareness regarding the risks related to improper management of medical wastes is the first step towards better waste management and adoption of safer practices and eco-friendly management options. Hospitals are now adopting advanced technology to address issues related to biomedical waste management.

Considering that medical care is vital to our life and health, reinforcing the importance of medical waste disposal helps in creating a worker-safe, patient-safe and eco-friendly organisations.

(Published 29 December 2018, 18:02 IST)

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