A policy that will facilitate the proper treatment and management of infectious medical waste in Antigua and Barbuda is expected to reduce the quantity of harmful emissions in the atmosphere and create a safer environment for residents in the twin island state.
The Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre has for years been using an incinerator to disintegrate medical waste, which is then buried at the Cook’s Landfill.
However, that form of disposal significantly contributes to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPS), which are toxic chemicals that adversely affect human health and the environment.
There is also no national record-keeping system to track and monitor medical waste emanating from hospitals, clinics, funeral homes, dental offices, or geriatric homes.
The National Medical Waste Plan, which is still in its draft stages, will therefore develop strategies for proper storage, transportation, treatment and disposal of medical waste throughout the country. The recommendation is that Antigua and Barbuda adopt the medical waste plan from Belize.
Currently, there is no specific legislation that speaks to how this sort of waste is generated, stored or treated, although there are six pieces of legislation (Saint George’s Declaration, National Solid Waste Management Act, Environmental Protection and Management Act, Public Health Act, Litter Control and Prevention Act, and the Physical Planning Act) that enable this process.
Ronald Roach, lead consultant on the Waste Management Project facilitated by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), told representatives in the medical and waste disposal sectors yesterday that the intention is for autoclave technology to replace the deep burial system that is currently being used to dispose of medical waste.
The autoclave system will be capable of treating medical waste for the entire country, and will require strict separation of waste at the source in accordance with World Health Organization guidelines.
By law, the Central Board of Health (CBH) is responsible for all public health monitoring, but Kenya Smith, a CBH representative, explained that there are issues with enforcement because there are no laws in place to penalise businesses that improperly dispose of their waste. Instead, Smith said the body offers advice for proper waste disposal.
Roach acknowledged the challenge in getting private sector agencies to participate in the process of proper recording and disposal in the absence of legislation, and has recommended that a National Health Waste Management Committee be formed to oversee the development of a regulatory framework proposal to establish a National Waste Management Policy.
He has also recommended that a service charge be implemented that will enable the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) to carry out its duties as the main collection and disposal agency.
Furthermore, national plans, and plans for specific medical facilities, should be developed to enable proper recording and tracking of medical waste for both public and private institutions.
This would include mechanisms that enable quick reporting if there is contamination or breaches of the policy, and the addressing of emergencies caused by contamination.
Daryl Spencer, NSWMA General Manager, described it as a “watershed moment in waste management in Antigua and Barbuda and a critical juncture in the way we see and manage our healthcare waste”.
The legislation will also extend to Barbuda where the recommendation is to install a small autoclave system that can be sited and operated in the medium term by the Barbuda Council.
Until then, medical waste in Barbuda will continue to be taken to the island’s Plantation Site where it will be deep buried.
The plan will also be developed in St Kitts and Nevis, and Suriname.