Health Care Wastes Get WHO's Attention

A new fact sheet from the World Health Organization sums up the problems of improper sharps disposal and health care waste that often is not separated into hazardous and non-hazardous waste streams in low-income countries.

A new fact sheet posted by the World Health Organization summarizes the problems posed by wastes generated by health care activities. It says high-income countries generate on average up to 0.5 kg of hazardous wastes per hospital bed daily, while low-income countries average 0.2 kg of hazardous waste per hospital bed per day. Because health care waste often isn't separated into hazardous and non-hazardous waste streams in low-income countries, their real quantity of hazardous waste may be much higher, it states.

Key facts listed in the document include these:

  • About 80 percent of all waste from health care activity is general waste, while the remainder is hazardous material that may be infectious, toxic, or radioactive.
  • Every year, an estimated 1 billion injections are administered worldwide, with some of those sharps improperly disposed of afterward.
  • Health care waste contains potentially harmful microorganisms.

It lists the major sources of health-care waste: hospitals and other health care establishments, laboratories and research centers, mortuary and autopsy centers, animal research and testing labs, blood banks and collection services, and nursing homes.

The sheet notes that incineration of waste has been widely practiced, but inadequate incineration or the incineration of unsuitable materials releases pollutants into the air and of ash residue. It says only modern incinerators operating at 850 to 1,100 degrees C and fitted with special gas-cleaning equipment can comply with international emission standards for dioxins and furans. Alternatives include autoclaving, microwaving, steam treatment integrated with internal mixing, and chemical treatment.

WHO offers guidance documents to aid safe management They are available at this website.

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