India’s medical waste output stood at more than 56,000 tonnes between June 2020 and 2021, according to government figures.
The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change recently reported that the total country’s total output of biomedical waste tallied at 56,898 tonnes. Maharashtra registered the largest amount of medical waste generated, at 8,317 tonnes. Kerala followed with 6,442 tonnes, then Gujarat at 5,004 tonnes; Tamil Nadu at 4,835 tonnes; Delhi at 3,995 tonnes; Uttar Pradesh at 3,881 tonnes; and Karnataka at 3,133.
The issue of medical waste output and its proper disposal has assumed heightened importance during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Health Issues India covered last year. “The pandemic underscores the need for proper handling of medical waste, for the purposes of public safety and sanitation,” I wrote. “The relevant authorities must take action against offenders and ensure sufficient staffing of the sanitation workforce to guarantee that the public health crisis unfolding is not exacerbated by a sanitation one.”
In March of last year, the Government unveiled guidelines for the appropriate management of medical waste linked to COVID-19. The Central Pollution Control Board urged good practices, such as to “collect and store biomedical waste separately prior to handing over the same [to] Common Bio-medical Waste Treatment Facility (CBWTF). Use a dedicated collection bin labelled as COVID-19 to store COVID-19 waste and keep separately in a temporary storage room prior to handing over to the authorised staff of the CBWTF. Biomedical waste collected in such isolation wards can also be lifted directly from [the] ward into [the] CBWTF collection van.”
However, issues such as understaffing among biomedical waste handlers have been flagged as impeding such best practices. This is not to mention lack of infrastructure. In the 2002-04 timeframe, 82 percent of primary healthcare facilities, 62 percent of secondary healthcare facilities, and 54 percent of tertiary healthcare facilities lacked a “credible” system of biomedical waste management. In the years since the situation has improved. However, in 2016, 37 tonnes per day of medical waste continued to go untreated.
The latest figures highlight the need to address a pollution and sanitation problem which often goes overlooked, to the nation’s peril. As I previously wrote, “medical waste, because of the circumstances in which it is generated, necessarily must be handled and disposed of properly. The risk to public health is too great for this not to be the case. While India has initiated policies to govern the disposal of such waste, the need is to ensure compliance from all quarters of the health sector and avert a biomedical pollution crisis.” With the pandemic generating even more medical waste, in the form of personal protective equipment, needles, syringes, and intravenous fluid bottles, the need has arguably never been more apparent.