Commentary | 20 May 2020

Biomedical Waste during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Emerging Issues and Challenges

Water and Health

India’s financial focus has emerged as the epicenter of the nation’s corona virus outbreak as the city alone accounts for more than one fifth of the total case of covid19. With cases of Covid-19 rising at an alarming rate in Mumbai in the past few weeks, questions arise that whether it is after the path of New York City. But more than that the most alarming issue is the increasing cases among the healthcare personnel. We should see this issue in connection with how the hospitals are dealing with the hospital wastes. This pandemic disease demands extra ordinary care in hygienic conditions and increased civic sense. Lack of it can claim so many lives in the city further.

Biomedical waste generated from various health care institutions and from households, has created tremendous environmental and public health problems. The mortality data shows that improper biomedical waste management has the potential to spread infections, leading to development of resistant organisms and bringing these resistant hospital organisms to the community again. Further, biomedical waste has the ability for polluting air, water, food and is foul smelling and affect aesthetic value of one place. Mumbai highly needs an appropriate biomedical waste management system.

Mumbai city produces 55 tons of biomedical waste everyday which include infectious needles, syringes, cotton, body tissues, organs etc. Though the BMW management rules are in existence from 1998, most of the medical waste generating institutions are not taking adequate measures for treatment and disposal of these wastes. Treatment and disposal costs about Rs 17 to 18 per kg. on an average. A hundred bed hospital generates 750gm of waste on an average per bed. This will generate around 75 kg of wastes per day and for treating this, hospitals need to spend around Rs1300/-. This obligates hospitals and clinics in finding other way to dispose the medical wastes. This is an alarming issue specially when there is an outbreak of pandemic disease.

In city like Mumbai, when the government is striving for reinforcing the healthcare infrastructure, master plan for biomedical waste management should be also in place. MPCB came up with revised guidelines for tackling the issues of bio medical waste management in line with CPCB.

But before we implement the guidelines, we must substantiate whether the waste management system which existing in the state is operating appropriately. The government need to focus on hospital waste management by formulating proper policy and ratifying it. The other functions like allocating officers/workers for monitoring and carrying out the routine functions, formulating training programs for all health care employees should gain importance. A step-by-step approach can be adopted.

Setting up of an efficient administrative framework like a waste management committee at institutional level should be the priority. Baseline assessment of waste produced in the healthcare institutions should be the precedent activity. Allocation of funds, preparation of central collection and treatment site, segregation of wastes, transportation of waste, terminal disposal at central collection and treatment system (CCTS) sites are the steps to follow for better biomedical waste management. But these are all the challenges ahead of the government. Government’s attention is needed in fighting the pandemic but at the same time, if the biomedical waste issues are not addressed, the spread of this disease will be hastened. There is a need of parallel workforce which can educate public and specially health care workers in the importance of safe disposal of masks, gloves, and PPEs and following the general civic guidelines of cleanliness etc.

Its certain that we will come out of this unparalleled situation. To overcome this pandemic season, we need collective effort of all citizens. This gives us a lesson that we should focus on the biomedical waste management in priority basis to save the community from health hazards.