Government of Japan and UNDP launch new project to address unprecedented rise in health care waste management in Bangladesh, Bhutan and the Maldives

August 10, 2022
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Health workers at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Bhutan’s Wangdue Phodrang district in October 2021. The pandemic has led to a surge in healthcare waste in the country.

10 August 2022 – The Government of Japan and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) yesterday, 9 August, 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 health care 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 H.E Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Chargé d'Affaires ad interim of Japan to the United Nations Mr. Takeshi Osuga  and Kanni Wignaraja, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific at UNDP.

“The Government of Japan is proud to support Bangladesh, Bhutan and the Maldives to establish sustainable solutions for health care waste management, that will provide long-term benefits for health care workers, patients and the wider community, as well as contribute to protecting human security,” said the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations.

Improperly managed health care waste is recognized as a significant source of pollutants. For example, disposing 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.

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 health care 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.”

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According to the Ministry of Health’s Annual Medical Waste Report, health facilities, quarantine centers and flu clinics generated 690 tons of healthcare waste in 2021. The capital Thimphu generates up to 50% of the total national healthcare waste. The Primary Health Centers, which also serve as COVID-19 test clinics, too have observed about 20% increase compared to pre-pandemic times.

The project will support key stakeholders in the three countries to deploy locally appropriate health care waste management practices and technologies to help protect human health, and minimize the pandemic's environmental and social impacts. 

Health facilities in 26 sub-districts in Bangladesh, in 15 districts and 4 cities in Bhutan, and 6 atolls in the Maldives will benefit from the support.

Health care 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 specialized health care waste disposal equipment and digital management systems for improved coordination.   

UNDP’s work in health is guided by its Strategic Plan and HIV and Health Strategy, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Through a systems and governance approach, and in collaboration with other UN agencies and partners, UNDP helps countries to deliver more strongly integrated health and development solutions that have equity, resilience and sustainability at their core.

For more information:

Dechen Wangmo, Communications Analyst, UNDP Bhutan, dechen.wangmo@undp.org.