The World Health Organization has said that the amount of waste generated by the COVID-19 epidemic poses a threat to the environment and human health.
The organization added that used medical equipment such as needles poses a health risk, while the increase in plastic waste is straining waste management systems.
The World Health Organization, in a report, called on producing companies to use more biodegradable materials, as well as packaging that preserves the environment.
She also spoke of an “urgent need” to reform the way waste is disposed of worldwide.
Items disposed of by healthcare facilities include protective clothing, syringes, gloves, face masks, and medical examination kits.
“It is absolutely essential to provide health care workers with appropriate personal protective equipment, but it is also essential to ensure that they are used safely without affecting the surrounding environment,” Michael Ryan, director of emergencies at the World Health Organization, said after the report was released on Tuesday.
The 71-page report concluded that most of the 1.5 billion medical items distributed by the United Nations in the early months of the pandemic ended up in landfills.
The report said disposable gloves contributed to more waste than anything else procured through the United Nations system.
WHO guidelines do not recommend requiring healthcare workers to wear gloves while administering the COVID-19 vaccine, despite it being a common practice in many places.
One study, cited by the report, revealed that 3.4 billion masks for personal use were disposed of daily in 2020 around the world.
Since most masks are made of plastic, waste can pollute land and water, especially in countries with less developed waste management systems.
The World Health Organization has also concluded that more than half of health care facilities in poor countries are unable to handle waste safely.
The world’s first eight billion doses of the Covid vaccine left 144,000 tons of waste in the form of syringes and needles, which could cause injuries to health care workers if improperly disposed.
The report also highlights innovative ways to sustainably reuse medical waste, including an example in Australia, where researchers used discarded face masks as road-building materials by shredding and drying them at high temperatures.
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