Southern Africa: Management of Hospital Waste Under Discussion

Maputo — Mozambique's National Director of Health, Mouzinho Saide, has warned that the problem of biomedical and hospital waste is becoming ever more worrying, due largely to poor management.

Such waste poses an increasing risk to public health, said Saide, at the opening of an international meeting on managing hospital waste on Thursday in Maputo.

Most waste generated by health care activities is no more perilous than ordinary household waste - but some is very dangerous indeed. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) up to a quarter of medical waste poses serious risks - this is infectious waste, discarded chemical and pharmaceutical products, and used sharp implements. Toxic and radioactive substances amount to about one per cent of the waste.

These wastes pose dangers "not only for health workers but also for the public at large, because materials contaminated with human fluids have not been treated with the necessary special care, thus increasing the risk of transmission of diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis", said Saide.

It was estimated that about 21 million people across the globe were infected with Hepatitis B through injections in 2000, representing 32 per cent of the total number of new infections.

The same document estimates that another two million people were infected in the same way with the virus of Hepatitis C and about 260,000 with HIV, corresponding to 40 per cent and five per cent of new infections respectively.

The meeting of health and environment experts from five member countries of the Southern African development Community (SADC) is working to develop technically reliable and economically sustainable systems of destroying biomedical and hospital waste.

A press release from the WHO representative in Maputo, says that epidemiological studies have shown that a person accidentally pricked by a needle used on someone already infected has a 30 per cent chance of contracting Hepatitis B, a 1.8 per cent chance of picking up Hepatitis C, and a 0.3 per cent chance of contracting HIV.

A 2002 WHO study in 22 developing countries concluded that between 18 and 64 per cent of the health units are not using appropriate methods to destroy biomedical waste. It also concluded that over 12 per cent of injuries resulting from needle pricks occur during storage of waste prior to destruction.

Needles are seen as the most dangerous instruments in the category of biomedical and hospital waste.

WHO recommends sorting waste by categories so as to reduce the quantities of dangerous waste, that require special attention and treatment.

The organization also stresses that the systems to destroy this kind of waste cannot be thought of as the responsibility of the hospital cleaners, or launderers or any others who handle it, but should include the entire community.

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