Excess Covid-19 waste threatening human health and environment: WHO

The World Health Organization says the overuse of gloves, ‘moonsuits’ and the use of billions of masks and vaccination syringes to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus have caused a huge glut of medical waste in the world. world.

The United Nations health agency reported on Tuesday that tens of thousands of tonnes of additional medical waste has strained waste management systems and threatens both health and the environment, highlighting an “urgent need “to improve these systems and get a response from governments and people. .

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“Part of the message to the public is to become a more aware consumer,” said Dr Margaret Montgomery, technical lead for the water, sanitation, hygiene and health unit at WHO. “In terms of volume, it’s huge.”

“We’re seeing people wearing excessive PPE,” Montgomery said, referring to personal protective equipment.

The agency says most of the roughly 87,000 tonnes of such equipment – ​​including what it called “moon suits” and gloves – obtained from March 2020 to November 2021 to fight Covid-19 ended up as waste. More than 8 billion doses of vaccine administered worldwide produced 143 tonnes of additional waste in terms of syringes, needles and safety boxes.

“Providing health workers with the right (protective equipment) is absolutely vital,” Dr Michael Ryan, WHO emergency chief, said in a statement. “But it’s also vital to make sure it can be used safely without impacting the environment.”

In the statement, Dr Anne Woolridge of the International Solid Waste Association said the “safe and rational use” of personal protective equipment would reduce environmental damage, save money, reduce possible shortages supply and would help prevent infection “by changing behavior”.

The WHO has issued recommendations such as the use of “eco-friendly” packaging and shipping, as well as reusable equipment and recyclable or biodegradable materials.

The agency called for investment in “non-combustion waste treatment” technologies. He reported that 30% of healthcare facilities globally – and 60% in least developed countries – were already ill-equipped to handle existing waste loads, even before the Covid-19 pandemic blew them up.