The Ebola crisis ravaged Liberia, infecting a startling 9,343 people, and killing 4,162 of them. The sheer amount of cases overwhelmed the country’s healthcare system and as a result, potentially deadly medical waste was burned in old incinerators, posing serious risks to people’s health, and the environment.
Fortunately, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has stepped in to help.
“Our incinerators don’t meet World Health Organisation (WHO) standards,” said Abraham Arto, Director of Operations at JFK, a hospital in Nigeria’s capital city. “We knew this, but during the Ebola crisis there was no other option. We tried our best to meet WHO standards in terms of how much we could incinerate, but we were just overwhelmed.”
The mismanagement of medical waste is a serious problem not only in countries like Liberia, but around the world. Each year, about 16,000 million injections are administered across the world, but only some of the needles and syringes are properly disposed of afterwards. Consequently, the mismanagement of this medical waste has a direct impact. In 2000, WHO estimates the improper disposal of medical waste led directly to 260,000 new HIV infections.
Medical waste produced as a result of Ebola treatments is of particular concern. The highly contagious nature of the lethal disease requires any potentially infected material to be thoroughly disposed of. It also means that a staggering amount of medical waste is produced. According to a report published in the Los Angeles Times, a single Ebola patient could produce eight 55-gallon barrels of medical waste each day. That’s 440 gallons of medical waste per patient, per day.
Due to the overwhelming amount of unbelievably dangerous medical waste, Liberia was forced to either leave it collecting, where it could potentially spread and exacerbate the problem, or use incinerators that didn’t meet WHO’s standards.
Now that the crisis is over, though, UNDP sent leading medical waste management expert Dr. Jorge Emmanuel in to solve the nation’s problem. After reviewing the issue, Emmanuel recommended the nation begin using autoclaves, technology that sterilizes medical waste.
“Autoclaves produce no toxic material. They only need electricity and water to run, and the only thing that comes out is steam and sterilized waste. By the time the waste is sterilized all micro-pathogens have been destroyed,” said Emmanuel. “Our tests have shown that everything harmful is destroyed during the treatment process.”
UNDP Liberia will provide the West African nation with twelve autoclaves, the first of which will be installed at JFK hospital, the nation’s largest medical facility, and the second at Tappeta Hospital in Nimba County, which serves as a major referral hospital.
“With the new autoclave from UNDP,” said Arto, “we hope to improve our waste management efficiency and make less of an impact on the environment.”