A recent study by Brac has found that around 93.4 percent of the medical and healthcare waste generated every day during this pandemic is left unmanaged due to the absence of a proper medical waste management system. According to the study, of the 530.45 tonnes of Covid-19 related waste generated per day from households and healthcare establishments, only 6.6 percent is managed formally. The remaining 93.4 percent is not under the current hospital waste management procedure. So, the 282.45 tonnes of healthcare waste, generated every day from protective items used by general people to shield themselves against Covid-19, are mixed with household waste before disposal. This waste is causing severe environmental pollution as well as health problems to the public. PRISM Bangladesh Foundation, a well-known third-party medical waste manager in Bangladesh, only partly manages the waste generated from hospitals and healthcare facilities in Dhaka and four other districts; the rest of the country is not under their coverage.
The issue of medical waste management has never received the importance it deserves, either from the government or the hospitals and clinics concerned. Public awareness regarding this is also negligible, while the relevant law remains largely unimplemented. Naturally, the situation has worsened during this pandemic as people are dumping masks, gloves and all kinds of disposable protective items indiscriminately on the ground and mixing them with kitchen wastes; even hospitals have been found to be dumping discarded PPEs on their premises.
What we need is a comprehensive medical waste management policy and system so these discarded medical items cannot pollute the environment and pose risks to public health. Medical waste related to Covid-19 should not get mixed with regular waste; these should be disposed of separately. Initiatives must be taken by the government to collect such waste separately.
We also need to raise public awareness regarding the issue and turn this awareness into a habit so that people stop dumping used masks, gloves and PPEs indiscriminately on the ground or mix them with other household waste. For that, we need coordinated efforts from all stakeholders and an increase in our overall waste management capabilities. The ministry of health, environment and local government should work together to this end. We need to find a sustainable solution to this problem through public-private partnership. The threat of the spread of the coronavirus through improper disposal of medical waste is far too real to be ignored.