Each time you visit the hospital for treatment and successfully return home, do you ever ask yourself how the hospital you visited handles its healthcare wastes? After the series of tests at the laboratory, do you know what lab owners, lab scientists and technologists do with your blood samples, semen, faeces, saliva and others? After the routine injection, how does the nurse dispose of the used syringes? How do pharmacies dispose of expired drugs? How do hospitals ensure that healthcare wastes do not constitute health hazards to their health workers, patients and to residents in the neighborhood? Have you ever cared to ask them how?
“Why should you do care”, you ask?
You really should care. Please, come with me.
Some days ago, we woke up to the sad end of the Chisom Anekwe (nee Okereke) who died under questionable circumstances at a hospital in Magodo, Lagos during the delivery of her to-be third child. Suddenly, a moment pregnant with joy was interjected by a cloud of eternal pain; both mother and baby were lost. That was preventable. While we cannot overemphasise the dangers posed by unprofessional attitude, negligence and other man-made errors by medical personnel and paramedics which I do hope relevant authorities like the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN), Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and others are already looking into, another area we should also be seriously concerned about is the management of healthcare wastes by medical and related facilities.
Do you know thousands contract deadly diseases through improperly disposed medical wastes like used syringes, test samples, infected bodily fluids etc., and that many eventually die as a result? The WHO in a report submitted that 75-90% of medical waste are non hazardous, while the remaining 10-25% while about 25% of preventable illnesses are environmentally related. Improperly disposed medical wastes have been known to pollute air, land and water. They cause or spread of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), antibiotic resistance, Hepatitis A, drug abuse, cancer, secondary infections, food contamination, blood poisoning, allergies, respiratory disorders, and even death.
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According to 24(dot)com, “medical waste (or healthcare waste) refers to clinical waste materials that are produced from healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, doctor’s offices, pharmaceutical manufacturing plants, nursing homes, and research laboratories. These materials may include used syringes, soiled dressings, chemicals used to treat illness, equipment and facility chemical cleansers, and radioactive materials.” It is also clear from various reports that the disposal of medical waste is a serious environmental concern.
Gladly, NESREA (National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency) has set in motion machinery to curtail this dangerous trend by putting in place guidelines to regulate handling of healthcare wastes by medical practitioners. The draft regulation (National Environmental (Healthcare Waste Control) Regulations 2016) is currently being reviewed by stakeholders, you can be a part of it too.
Benefits of the draft Regulations
The thrust of the new Regulations which shall cover healthcare generators, handlers and treatment facilities is “To prevent and minimise waste emanating from activities of healthcare facilities with a view to safeguarding human health and the Nigerian environment” by ensuring the collection, transportation, treatment and final disposal of wastes within the specified standards and guidelines.
Amongst other things, it will:
- Protect healthcare workers and improve public safety
- Hold practitioners to account
- Ensure safe handling of healthcare wastes and their sustainable disposal
- Make our environment safer and healthier.
Where do you come in as an individual?
Like I mentioned earlier, this new regulations is currently in the pipeline. Last week, a preliminary review was carried out in all NESREA offices nationwide. Soon, NESREA is in the process of organising robust public hearings on the draft regulations, featuring from across the length and breadth of Nigeria (medical professionals, community health experts, members of the academia, professionals and other stakeholders like you) and the international community. When that announcement is made public, please, make plans to attend. Make sure your voice is heard. A robustly discussed draft Regulations will mostly likely produce a National Regulations that is well thought out, relevant, implementable and effective.
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After the public hearing, necessary modifications will be made on the draft regulations to reflect the various important contributions from stakeholders. Then, the regulations will be passed on to relevant authorities to be gazetted by the Federal Government, after which it would become legally enforceable by the Agency in its activities Nationwide.
However, a robust and productive stakeholder engagement of the draft regulation and its eventual adoption is only an initial first step. After that, there will be more work to be done to ensure its full implementation. But truth is, you can be an integral part of what it takes to make this proposed national regulations work in the long term.
So I ask you “Will you take this challenge and save the next Chisom Anekwe (nee Okereke) from the jaws of death? Will you play your role to make our environment safer and healthier? I am hoping you will.
~ KUNLERE Idowu
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