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March 2019

World Health Day: A quick guide to responsible medical waste disposal

Written by Bakang Kganyago
Hygiene Specialists

The World Health Organization (WHO) celebrates World Health Day on the 7th of April. The purpose of World Health Day is to build awareness about health care, and, through training and backing, aims to prepare health care practitioners to provide better health services.

With the theme of this year’s World Health Day being Universal Health Coverage we have decided to address medical waste disposal, a topic that has a universal impact on health and wellbeing.

We thought to delve into some keys things you should know about medical waste. What is medical waste, which legislation applies and the dangers of illegal disposal.

What is medical waste?

Sometimes called healthcare waste, according to the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) medical waste may be defined as any “undesirable or superfluous by-product, emission, residue or remainder generated by in the course of health care by healthcare professionals, which is discarded, accumulated and stored with the purpose of eventually discarding it, or is stored with the purpose of recycling, re-using or extracting a usable product from such matter.”

What are the types of hazardous health care waste and how should it be segregated?

The HPCSA categorised health care waste into the following:

  • Infectious waste

  • Pathological waste, including body fluids, secretions and surgical specimens

  • Sharps, especially contaminated sharps

  • Pharmaceutical waste

  • Chemical waste

  • Heavy metals

  • Radioactive waste

  • Genotoxic waste

  • Cytotoxic agents

  • Pressurised container

For more on this take a look at our previous blog Health Care Waste: Terminology 101 where we elaborate on this extensively

What are the dangers of illegal health care waste disposal?

If health care waste is illegally mixed with municipal waste, a percentage of the waste ends up being buried or burned, thus polluting the environment, either through contaminating the soil and which could possibly affect drinking water, or polluting the air which may lead to diseases being airborne.

Additionally, the poor management of such waste presents a risk to public health: viruses and illnesses such as HIV, hepatitis and other blood-related diseases may be transmitted to waste pickers or municipal workers who unknowingly pick up a refuse bag filled with sharps and who are at risk of needlestick injury from an infected needle.

Why should we manage Health Care Waste?

In a previous blog, Health Care Waste: Terminology 101,  we discussed how both minor and major medical waste generators should comply with the guidelines stipulated by The National Health Act 2003 (Act No 61 of 2003): Regulations relating to health care waste management in health establishments, which include a “duty to dispose of waste safely.” This act applies to all producers of medical waste and stipulates that producers of such waste are “legally and financially” responsible for the safe disposal of said waste.

The HPCSA states it is the responsibility of all health care practitioners to have a health care waste management system in place or to have access to such a system. Furthermore, they state that such a system should be provided by an accredited waste service provider (such as Initial) and be conducted in accordance with relevant SABS code.

According to the HPCSA the system that the health care professional puts in place should deal comprehensively with measures for waste minimisation, segregation, packaging, labelling, storage and removal of waste in a manner that poses no threat to human health or the environment.

How can Initial help?

Initial is deeply invested in providing a safer future for all South Africans and considering that World Health Day is about building awareness and educating health care providers on how to provide better health care services, we feel that this should include education around responsible medical waste management.

Besides sanitary and nappy waste disposal services, Initial now also offers medical waste services which include:

  • Non-anatomical infectious waste, such as blood spoiled tissue, surgical gloves etc. produced in doctors rooms or theatres

  • Sharps waste, such as needles, syringes, blades, extracted teeth etc.

  • Pharmaceutical waste, which is all types of expired medicine schedule 1-4.

(for more on this see our Ask The Expert blog with Tobie Muller)

After completing a pre-acceptance survey to identify and categorise the kind of medical waste you are producing, Initial will advise you on the steps to take, including the products you will need to segregate, and will then put in place a safe, compliant and bespoke waste collection and disposal service.

Initial’s disposal units are regularly and discreetly exchanged with stringently cleaned replacements. The waste is then disposed of in a manner that is stipulated by legislation in accordance with the type of medical waste at hand.

This World Health Day let’s embody the theme of Universal Health by being mindful of how something as simple as disposing of waste correctly can have a huge impact on public health. We want to educate others by sharing the importance of applying safe health care practices. You can let us know in the comments how you will be contributing this year. Happy World Health Day!


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Bakang Kganyago

Bakang Kganyago

Bakang is a Digital Marketing Executive for Rentokil Initial. A germaphobe at heart, he's passionate about learning and sharing insights on how to defeat the enemy we cannot see. Join his journey as he writes about the impact of germs in our daily lives.

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