Medical Waste Management in Developing Countries

medical-waste-managementHealthcare sector is growing at a very rapid pace, which in turn has led to tremendous increase in the quantity of medical waste generation in developing countries, especially by hospitals, clinics and other healthcare establishments. The quantity of healthcare waste produced in a typical developing country depends on a wide range of factors and may range from 0.5 to 2.5 kg per bed per day.

For example, India generates as much as 500 tons of biomedical wastes every day while Saudi Arabia produces more than 80 tons of healthcare waste daily. The growing amount of medical wastes is posing significant public health and environmental challenges across the world. The situation is worsened by improper disposal methods, insufficient physical resources, and lack of research on medical waste management. The urgent need of the hour is to healthcare sustainable in the real sense of the word.

Hazards of Healthcare Wastes

The greatest risk to public health and environment is posed by infectious waste (or hazardous medical waste) which constitutes around 15 – 25 percent of total healthcare waste. Infectious wastes may include items that are contaminated with body fluids such as blood and blood products, used catheters and gloves, cultures and stocks of infectious agents, wound dressings, nappies, discarded diagnostic samples, swabs, bandages, disposal medical devices, contaminated laboratory animals etc.

Improper management of healthcare wastes from hospitals, clinics and other facilities in developing nations pose occupational and public health risks to patients, health workers, waste handlers, haulers and general public. It may also lead to contamination of air, water and soil which may affect all forms of life. In addition, if waste is not disposed of properly, ragpickers may collect disposable medical equipment (particularly syringes) and to resell these materials which may cause dangerous diseases.

Inadequate healthcare waste management can cause environmental pollution, growth and multiplication of vectors like insects, rodents and worms and may lead to the transmission of dangerous diseases like typhoid, cholera, hepatitis and AIDS through injuries from syringes and needles contaminated with human.

In addition to public health risks associated with poor management of biomedical waste, healthcare wastes can have deleterious impacts on water bodies, air, soil as well as biodiversity. The situation is further complicated by harsh climatic conditions in many developing nations which makes disposal of medical waste more challenging.

The predominant medical waste management method in the developing world is either small-scale incineration or landfilling. However, the WHO policy paper of 2004 and the Stockholm Convention, has stressed the need to consider the risks associated with the incineration of healthcare waste in the form of particulate matter, heavy metals, acid gases, carbon monoxide, organic compounds, pathogens etc.

In addition, leachable organic compounds, like dioxins and heavy metals, are usually present in bottom ash residues. Due to these factors, many industrialized countries are phasing out healthcare incinerators and exploring technologies that do not produce any dioxins. Countries like United States, Ireland, Portugal, Canada and Germany have completely shut down or put a moratorium on medical waste incinerators.

Alternative Treatment Technologies

The alternative technologies for healthcare waste disposal are steam sterilization, advanced steam sterilization, microwave treatment, dry heat sterilization, alkaline hydrolysis, biological treatment and plasma gasification.

Nowadays, steam sterilization (or autoclaving) is the most common alternative treatment method. Steam sterilization is done in closed chambers where both heat and pressure are applied over a period of time to destroy all microorganisms that may be present in healthcare waste before landfill disposal. Among alternative systems, autoclaving has the lowest capital costs and can be used to process up to 90% of medical waste, and are easily scaled to meet the needs of any medical organization.

Advanced autoclaves or advanced steam treatment technologies combine steam treatment with vacuuming, internal mixing or fragmentation, internal shredding, drying, and compaction thus leading to as much as 90% volume reduction. Advanced steam systems have higher capital costs than standard autoclaves of the same size. However, rigorous waste segregation is important in steam sterilization in order to exclude hazardous materials and chemicals from the waste stream.

Microwave treatment is a promising technology in which treatment occurs through the introduction of moist heat and steam generated by microwave energy. A typical microwave treatment system consists of a treatment chamber into which microwave energy is directed from a microwave generator. Microwave units generally have higher capital costs than autoclaves, and can be batch or semi-continuous.

Chemical processes use disinfectants, such as lime or peracetic acid, to treat waste. Alkaline digestion is a unique type of chemical process that uses heated alkali to digest tissues, pathological waste, anatomical parts, or animal carcasses in heated stainless steel tanks. Biological processes, like composting and vermicomposting, can also be used to degrade organic matter in healthcare waste such as kitchen waste and placenta.

Plasma gasification is an emerging solution for sustainable management of healthcare waste. A plasma gasifier is an oxygen-starved reactor that is operated at the very high temperatures which results in the breakdown of wastes into hydrogen, carbon monoxide, water etc. The main product of a plasma gasification plant is energy-rich syngas which can be converted into heat, electricity and liquids fuels. Inorganic components in medical wastes, like metals and glass, get converted into a glassy aggregate.

About Salman Zafar

Salman Zafar is the CEO of BioEnergy Consult, and an international consultant, advisor and trainer with expertise in waste management, biomass energy, waste-to-energy, environment protection and resource conservation. His geographical areas of focus include Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Salman has successfully accomplished a wide range of projects in the areas of biogas technology, biomass energy, waste-to-energy, recycling and waste management. Salman has participated in numerous national and international conferences all over the world. He is a prolific environmental journalist, and has authored more than 300 articles in reputed journals, magazines and websites. In addition, he is proactively engaged in creating mass awareness on renewable energy, waste management and environmental sustainability through his blogs and portals. Salman can be reached at salman@bioenergyconsult.com or salman@cleantechloops.com.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Medical Waste Management in Developing Countries

  1. On the opening statement of the article, quote “Healthcare sector in developing countries is growing at a very rapid pace, which in turn has led to tremendous increase in the quantity of healthcare waste generation by hospitals, clinics and other establishments”, unquote;I have to state that ‘one of the factor that causes a tremendous increase in the quantity of healthcare waste (HCW) generation is the policy of charging the hospitals and clinics for treatment and disposal of HCW on basis of Charges per Bed per Day, and that to at subsidised rates. This sets a tendency of not to minimise waste generation, but to add other non-infectious safe waste to the medical waste as it does not cost anything more for treatment, since the charges are fixed on per Bed per day basis. If the charges are fixed on weight (kgs / lbs) basis then natural trend would be towards minimisation in disposal of healthcare waste. There are no known regulatory laws in place that will penalise on mixing Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) and Safe Waste to the Medical Waste, though there are penalties that exists for doing it the other way around of mixing Medical waste to MSW. Therefore treatment charges should be based on weight (kgs / lbs) basis. Of how to segregate the recyclable safe waste and have monetary returns by its sale should be educated and demonstrated to the stake holders of the healthcare establishment.’ – Homi Mullan

  2. Salman, this is a very relevant topic these days. I’ve been involved in some projects with gov’t entities in Abu Dhabi who are looking to ensure that the workers involved in the transport and treatment of medical waste have adequate skills to perform their duties in a safe and effective manner. Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss further.

  3. Dr Anil Rahule says:

    Nice strategy given by Salman sir,in India it is necessity of application of these types of project

  4. Pingback: Medical Wastes in GCC | EcoMENA

  5. Pingback: Key Technologies for Medical Waste Treatment

  6. Pingback: Harmful Effects of Healthcare Wastes | Cleantech Solutions

  7. Pingback: Hiring a Waste Management Company

  8. Pingback: Guide to Effective Waste Management

  9. Pingback: Medical Waste Management: An Infographic | EcoMENA

  10. Pingback: Challenges in Hazardous Medical Waste Management

Share your Thoughts

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.