As health systems are strengthened and healthcare coverage expands in developing countries, an increasing amount of waste is generated - and the releases of persistent organic pollutants and other toxic substances to the environment can increase substantially. This is often an unintended consequence of choices in materials and processes that seek to improve health outcomes.
Incineration and open burning of healthcare waste are the main sources of dioxins in healthcare, and are major sources of mercury pollution. These harmful contaminants are transported globally on air currents and by other means; they are toxic in small quantities; they bio-accumulate up the food chain; and they have caused documented harm to public health and the environment at locations far from the original source of their release.
Incineration and improperly handled mercury spills are not the only problems with medical waste treatment, however. Some urban and many rural hospitals and clinics in the developing world discard their medical waste with regular trash, which risks the spread of diseases especially among waste handlers, recyclers, and communities living near dump sites. Discarded needles and syringes, for instance, may result in the spread of bloodborne pathogens such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.
As health programs expand around the world, safer systems of medical waste treatment and
disposal must also expand in order to prevent harming the very populations these programs are intending to serve. Learn more about the alternative systems approach to healthcare waste management that this project is demonstrating.