Water Engineering and Development Centre
Series: WELL Studies in Water, Sanitation and Environmental Health Task 326
What is the extent of risks posed by healthcare waste to the urban poor and how these risks can be reduced?
The main research findings are:
very few studies have quantified the actual health and socio-economic impacts of healthcare waste, focusing instead on examples of 'best practice'. The literature, therefore, does not address whether responding to perceived rather than actual risks results in the adoption of unnecessary and unsustainable standards and associated expensive technology, and whether there are alternative, intermediary, low cost measures which could be carried out.
Healthcare waste refers to the total waste stream, which is generated by hospitals, health care establishments, research facilities and laboratories. Up to a quarter of this waste is classified as hazardous, clinical waste, and covers: infectious waste containing pathogens; sharp waste such as needles; pathological waste containing human tissues, fluids and viral cultures; pharmaceutical waste; gas canisters and other chemical and radioactive materials. Hazardous waste only poses a risk when its disposal is not effectively managed.
The pathways of risk include: direct contact; contact through vectors; airborne transmission; and the pollution of the water souce or local environment. Exposure to these pathways poses potential risks of: disease and infection; cuts, burns and skin irritation; cancers; injury from explosion; ineffective medical care and pollution of ground and surface water and air. The level of actual rather than perceived risk is difficult to quantify; it is not easy to disaggregate the associated risks of waste pickers? livelihoods from the effects of their poor living conditions.