New technology to eliminate dangerous toxic waste in Liberian hospitals

Mar 16, 2015

Machinery provided to 12 Liberian hospitals will help safely dispose of toxic medical waste. PHoto: UNdP liberia

Monrovia - When the Ebola virus hit, Liberia’s hospitals were overwhelmed and the healthcare system could not cope. Now the epidemic is in retreat, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is supporting the Government’s efforts to rebuild healthcare systems, tackle problems exposed by Ebola and fix issues that predate the epidemic.
One of these issues is safely dealing with hazardous medical waste. Staff at hospitals like JFK in the capital, Monrovia, were forced to burn the potentially deadly materials in old incinerators that can harm people’s health, pollute the environment and release damaging chemicals into the atmosphere.
“Our incinerators don't meet World Health Organisation (WHO) standards,” said Abraham Arto, Director of Operations at JFK. 
“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."
After discussions with the Government, UNDP sent in leading medical waste management expert, Dr. Jorge Emmanuel, to help solve the problem. He recommended bringing in autoclaves – modern technology to safely sterilize 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,” Emmanuel said.
”Our tests have shown that everything harmful is destroyed during the treatment process,” he added.
UNDP Liberia will provide twelve autoclaves, with the first installed at JFK hospital, the nation’s largest, and the second at Tappeta Hospital in Nimba County, which serves as a major referral hospital. 
The remaining ten will be installed at hospitals across the country in consultation with the Ministry of Health. 
“With the new autoclave from UNDP we hope to improve our waste management efficiency and make less of an impact on the environment,” said Abraham Arto from JFK.
Kamil Kamaluddeen, UNDP’s Country Director in Liberia, said the autoclaves were part of a larger strategy to rebuild the country’s health system. 
“Waste management is one element – the autoclaves mean that we're not creating new health problems for people who live and work near hospitals,” he said. 
“But Ebola also showed us that the system is not prepared to deal with outbreaks. We want to make sure that Liberia has a country-wide disaster response mechanism. That means that when any disaster occurs, there are systems in place at the central and county levels, as well as right down to the community level.”
“There's a huge amount of work to be done to make sure the health system is fully functional at the county and district level and UNDP is working with the Government to put systems in place so that people have confidence in local services and institutions, treatment is affordable and accessible and that the infrastructure is in place to deal with any new outbreaks.” 

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