How the Kingdom is dealing with COVID-19 medical waste

Rise in pandemic-era medical and household waste requires a wide-scale response to protect the community

(Photo: Freepik)
AMMAN — While standard COVID-19 response procedures include strict lockdown, testing procedures, and hospital facilities, an often-overlooked element is medical and household waste management. اضافة اعلان

In Jordan, the average daily medical waste production per bed in some hospitals during the pandemic increased between 3 to 10 times compared to the quantities generated under normal conditions, according to Jordan’s Economic and Social Council’s 2020 country status report.

Healthcare waste, as defined by World Health Organization guidelines, includes all waste generated within healthcare facilities, research centers, and laboratories related to medical procedures. It also includes healthcare waste generated in households.

“The waste generated during the pandemic is large and difficult to manage, and so it is important that this does not enter the environment,” said biosafety and biosecurity expert and team leader at the Eastern Mediterranean Public Health Network, Tariq Sannouri, in an interview with Jordan News. “We still don’t know a lot about this virus; seeing as it is an infectious biological disease, it must be properly gotten rid of.”

If medical waste such as disposable masks and plastic gloves are discarded as general waste, there is a risk to landfill workers, medical workers, and anyone who comes into contact with these potentially contagious items, Sannouri explained. All biological samples are therefore always assumed to be infectious.

Sannouri said that both governmental and private entities now need to play a role in treating, transporting, and discarding medical waste in Jordan.

Conditions created by the pandemic significantly increased this waste, said Ministry of Environment spokesperson Ahmad Obeidat in an interview with Jordan News, which posed challenges that led to collaboration for collection and transportation of waste.

“Private companies that deal with medical waste have to be authorized by the Ministry of Environment before collaborating with governmental and private entities,” Obedat said.

 The protocols adopted by Jordan, he added, are within the standards set by global institutions.

The procedures are then followed by hospitals and institutions throughout Jordan. “Medical waste is disposed of according to the Ministry of Health protocols regarding medical waste,” head of the private hospital association, Fawzi Hamouri, told Jordan News. Correct sorting of waste, using designated waste bags, and treating biological waste through autoclave technologies, he added, are essential tactics to make the waste less dangerous.

Hospitals across the nation witnessed this significant rise in medical waste during the COVID-19 pandemic firsthand. “We used to generate around 100 to 150kg daily of waste, it has now reached around 200 to 300kg a day,” said Abdulhadi General Hospital CEO Rafat Nimer in an interview with Jordan News.

“This quantity doubled as everything that enters the rooms of COVID-19 patients is counted as medical waste,” said Nimer.

 “Even the disposable plates and spoons; they are no longer general waste, because they are infectious.”

While the hospital currently contracts a private company that specializes in the treatment and discarding of medical waste, it is working on acquiring proper devices to treat the waste within the hospital. “This solution lowers the risks and is better for the environment,” Nimer said. “It directly treats waste with no transportation.”

Another issue, experts agree, is household-generated COVID-19 waste.

“Infectious waste generated from households and public places during the COVID-19 pandemic includes potentially contaminated materials,” states the United Nations Environment Program COVID-19 waste management report. This includes masks, gloves, tissues, disposable clothes, and other personal protective equipment.

In addition to being a health risk, the improper discarding of household medical waste is an environmental concern. “We often see masks discarded in the streets and this will cause an environmental catastrophe in the future,” Nimer said. “We should look into recycling these masks or designating areas for this waste.”

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic resulted in some environmental benefits, including the reduction in pollutants generated by transportation, said Abdul Ghani Albaali, professor in environment technology and management at Princess Sumaya University for Technology.

However, the non-biodegradable quality of the materials used for masks and gloves, for example, is an issue. “The government should have more awareness campaigns to encourage proper discarding as these are considered hazardous materials,” Abaali said.

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