Japan and UNDP on Wednesday launched a new project that will support the national health agencies and other key stakeholders in Bangladesh, Bhutan and the Maldives to address the unprecedented rise in infectious healthcare waste caused by the COVID-19 pandemic that is overwhelming waste treatment facilities.
The two-year $11 million ‘Project for the Improvement of Infectious Waste Management’ was officially launched at a signing ceremony in New York City attended by Ambassador Takeshi Osuga, Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations, and Kanni Wignaraja, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Improperly managed healthcare waste has been identified as a major source of pollution.For example, disposing of untreated health care waste in open dumps and landfill sites can cause soil and water contamination, while inadequate incineration of medical waste can lead to the release of persistent organic pollutants, said a press release from the UNDP in Dhaka.
Many low- and middle-income countries have historically had limited public and private investments in sustainable waste treatment systems, and now find themselves in the dire situation of mounting health care waste that is beyond their waste management capacity.
"The COVID-19 pandemic continues to present compound challenges for countries on their path to recovery and sustainable development," said Kanni Wignaraja. "The threat posed by inadequate healthcare waste management systems is one such challenge that requires urgent attention so we can better safeguard our health as well as that of the environment." The project will support key stakeholders in the three countries to deploy locally appropriate health care waste management practises and technologies to help protect human health, and minimise the pandemic's environmental and social impacts.
Health facilities in 26 sub-districts in Bangladesh, in 15 districts across 4 cities in Bhutan, and in 6 atolls in the Maldives will benefit from the support.
Healthcare workers will receive training on properly treating and handling infectious waste, which requires special treatment processes to ensure there is no risk of onward disease transmission to patients, hospital staff, and nearby communities. Health facilities will also be equipped with specialised health care waste disposal equipment and digital management systems for improved coordination.