Huge Volumes of COVID-19 Hospital Waste Pose Health Hazard, WHO Warns

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Monday that huge amounts of accumulated medical waste from the COVID-19 pandemic pose a threat to human health and the environment.

Discarded syringes, used test kits and old vaccine bottles from efforts to battle COVID-19 have piled up to tens of thousands of tons of hazardous waste, WHO said in a new report on Tuesday.

The report said that a large share of approximately 87,000 tons of personal protective equipment (PPE) procured between March 2020 and November 2021 for healthcare initiatives have ended up as waste. This does not take into account PPEs and other waste generated by the public.

It added that over 140 million test kits that have been shipped is expected to generate 2,600 tons of waste. Meanwhile, 8 billion doses of vaccine administered globally have created 144,000 tons of additional waste in the form of syringes, needles, and safety boxes.

Most health facilities are unequipped to handle existing waste loads, let alone the additional load from COVID-19, WHO said. The agency warned that this potentially exposes health workers to needle stick injuries, burns, and disease-causing germs.

Communities living near poorly-managed landfills and waste disposal sites could also be affected through contaminated air from burning waste, poor water quality, or disease-causing pests, the report added.

The UN health body called for reform in areas such as reducing unnecessary packaging, and additional investment in better waste-treatment technology.

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