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Over the past few years, public concern has been growing over the disposal of wastes produced by health care facilities in the Philippines. Several reports have cited large, albeit inconsistent, figures of the amount of infectious waste hospitals in Metro Manila produce daily, and little information is available on what is done with these wastes, especially after the banning of incineration in the country. More recently, these concerns have been fueled by reports that some of these wastes end up in our open dumpsites and in some cases, in rivers, leading some sectors to call for the allowing of incineration once again.
Health care waste can be managed properly without the use of incinerators that produce toxic air pollutants that pose threat to human health and environment. To begin with, not all of the wastes produced by hospitals are infectious or hazardous. With proper management and the use of well-known solid waste management tools such as segregation and recycling, the portion of a hospital’s waste stream that poses risk to human and environmental health need not be cause of public fear.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2000, 21 million people all over the world were infected with the hepatitis B virus due to injections with contaminated syringes. Another 2 million people were infected with the hepatitis C virus due to the same cause, and about 260,000 were infected with HIV. Ironically, all these people acquired diseases as a result of the practices of the very institutions that should be protecting their health.
The sheer nature of providing health care, unfortunately, creates wastes that can pose serious environmental and health risks to health care workers, waste handlers, and even waste pickers. This, however, is the case only if the wastes produced by health care facilities are not managed properly. In 2002, though, a WHO assessment conducted in 22 developing countries showed that 18% to 64% of health care facilities do not use proper waste disposal methods. While most of the waste produced by health care facilities is not any more dangerous than regular household waste, some types do represent a higher risk to health.
According to the WHO, these include infectious waste (15% to 25% of total healthcare waste), among which are sharps waste (1%), body part waste (1%), chemical or pharmaceutical waste (3%), and radioactive and cytotoxic waste or broken thermometers (less than 1%). Improperly managed and disposed, these wastes can expose health care workers and the public to risk of infections. In order to fulfill the medical ethic to “first do no harm”, the health care industry has a responsibility to manage waste in ways that protect both the public and the environment.
Poor management of health care waste potentially exposes health care workers, waste handlers, patients and community at large to infection, toxic effects and injuries, and risks for polluting the environment. It is essential that all medical waste materials are segregated at the point of generation, approximately treated and disposed of safely. The purpose of this study is to have a practical understanding and to raise the lore of the patients and so as their significant others regarding the significance and essentiality of proper health care waste management, and also to raise the quality of the health care environment.
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