Sierra Leone, UNDP begin eco-friendly disposal of Ebola medical waste

Dec 22, 2014

New York  – With support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), Sierra Leone has begun to use new, environmentally-friendly sterilizing equipment to help dispose of the vast amounts of contaminated protective equipment and infectious waste generated in treating Ebola patients.

The sterilizing machine, known as an autoclave, decontaminates used medical equipment and waste such as syringes, personal protective suits and gloves through several cycles of high-pressure steam and vacuuming, allowing for their safe disposal.

It is the first of its kind in any of the Ebola-affected countries and is now functioning at the Ebola Treatment Units (ETU) at Police Training School Treatment Centre Two in Hastings and No. 34 Military Hospital in Freetown.

“This isn’t just a massive step ahead in terms of helping medical teams deal with the Ebola virus and ending the disease. It should also be a best practice for disposing of medical waste in general,” said Magdy Martínez-Solimán, Director of the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support at UNDP.

“This is an investment in the future which Ebola-affected countries will benefit from long after the crisis has ended,” he added.
The highly infectious nature of the Ebola virus means that special full-body suits that health workers, burial teams and other responders use have to be sterilized, or destroyed after a single use.

Autoclaves present an alternative to burning waste in open pits, barrels, or inexpensive incinerators without air pollution control equipment, which produce dangerous fumes and expose workers to flames.

“It is our responsibility to help medical teams manage public health risks and the environment responsibly,” said David McLachlan-Karr, the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Sierra Leone. “We’ve seen the autoclaves at work and they are definitely going to improve the quality of life for communities living in the vicinity.”

With autoclaves, medical waste is processed in safe barrels designed to minimize contact and comes out as a dry and sterile plastic mass less than half the initial volume. The equipment requires electricity and water for the internal steam generator, and a small drain for releasing sterilized liquids and steam.

“It’s very easy to use,” said Private Kargbo Kanbeh, public health officer for 34 Military Hospital. “I know it’s just about two things: temperature, pressure, temperature, pressure. Everything is manual. It’s very good for Africa. It’s very fast.”

The autoclave was designed under a UNDP/GEF project and is manufactured by a South African company, Mediclave to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis and other diseases that can be transmitted through infectious waste.

UNDP is working to roll out the technology to 11 treatment centers across Sierra Leone and plans to send some units to Guinea and Liberia, the other two most-affected countries. The initiative, worth USD 4 million, is partially cost-shared by the Government of South Korea.

Contact information

Nicolas Douillet, Communications Specialist, UNDP Africa. Tel: +1.212.906.5937.
Lesley Wright, Communications Specialist, UNDP Sierra Leone, Tel: +232 (0)78 950 001
On Twitter: @UNDP #EbolaResponse

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