Why medical waste management is a priority now

December 8, 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak in Kyrgyzstan, as in many countries around the world, revealed gaps in health, economics, social protection, governance and public policy systems. This required massive mobilization of internal and external resources.

One of the acute problems in Kyrgyzstan around the situation with coronavirus infection is the several times increase in the volume of medical waste. This has given rise to an urgent need to assess and improve the healthcare waste management system and to conduct a rapid study of the environmental impact of waste generated from COVID-19.

According to Mr. Aleksey Kravtsov, a specialist at the National Scientific and Practical Center for Infection Control of the "Preventive Medicine" Association under the Ministry of Health of the Kyrgyz Republic, a real collapse occurred in the special institutions: they did not have time to disinfect the waste. Part of the medical waste was removed by a private company that has the disposal capacity, and the other part, after disinfection, ended up in the solid waste landfill.

Why it is important and why we should care about it? According to the World Health Organization, 15 percent of medical waste is considered hazardous materials through which hospital patients, doctors and other people may get infected. And as a result of burning waste, the release of pathogens or toxic pollutants into the environment may pose a serious health risk. Moreover, this circumstance may lead to a significant increase in emissions of persistent organic pollutants which, in turn, may result in an environmental disaster.

“Due to improper disposal of medical waste at landfills, they are spontaneously ignited or burnt. As a result, the waste, including that medical, containing large amounts of plastic, when burned, emit a large amount of persistent organic pollutants into the environment, which detrimentally affect public health." - Mr. Kravtsov goes.

The United Nations Development Program, with the support of the Government of Japan, has launched comprehensive response to strengthen the public health systems and address the socio-economic impact of the pandemic, as part of assistance to Kyrgyzstan in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Some of these activities are designed as opportunities to create a platform to leverage additional resources, scale up interventions, and generate greater impact.

Thus, in response to the current situation around the excess amount of medical waste and the urgent need for its proper disposal, UNDP Kyrgyzstan is involved in assessing and improving this system and conducting a rapid study of the environmental impact of waste generated from COVID-19. In addition, more than 600 employees of 42 medical institutions will receive training in medical waste management.

“Training sessions will be held in every medical facility that treat patients with COVID-19 in the cities of Bishkek and Osh, and in all regions immediately after the monitoring and impact assessment of the medical waste disposal system with a focus on environmental aspects is conducted. By the time being, the healthcare waste management system was assessed only within the framework of monitoring of the infection control system, as its integral part. This work will be carried out in the partnership with the Health Promotion Association," explained Mr. Eldiyar Seitkaziev, the "Supporting an Inclusive and Multi-Sectoral Response to COVID-19 and Addressing its Socio-Economic Impact in the Kyrgyz Republic" project coordinator.

The Health Promotion Association unites all key stakeholders working in the healthcare sector: state and private medical centers, doctors and patients, and therefore has a wide scope of activities. Also, this organization has relevant practical and scientific background to organize and carry out activities to strengthen health systems in combating COVID-19, which are planned under the UNDP project.

According to the expert Kravtsov, this kind of full-scale monitoring in the field of disposal of medical waste will be carried out in Kyrgyzstan for the first time. The conducted research will help to understand how the system of medical waste disposal is organized in the country and to provide appropriate recommendations. This process will involve the staff of the Infection Control Center, who participated in the development and implementation of the medical waste disposal system from the very beginning, which will ensure the best result of improving the system. Findings of the study will be used by the Ministry of Health of the Kyrgyz Republic for the institutional sustainability of the medical waste management system in the country’s hospitals. And the knowledge and skills of health workers obtained during the training will be used in daily practice.

This work was initiated within the UNDP project titled "Supporting an Inclusive and Multi-Sectoral Response to COVID-19 and Addressing its Socio-Economic Impact in the Kyrgyz Republic" funded by the Government of Japan and aimed at comprehensive and people-centered socio-economic measures to respond to COVID-19.