Submitted by leannem on Sat, 06/20/2020 - 10:15
Waste webinar
June 20, 2020 by leannem
Waste Management and Pollution Control

Friday 19 June 2020, Apia, Samoa – While countries in the Pacific have been significantly spared from the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to swift and early response from Governments, the importance of resilience and preparedness in the Pacific community, particularly in the area of waste and pollution management, continues to be stressed by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

This was done through a webinar hosted by SPREP’s Waste Management and Pollution Control (WMPC) programme on the online video conferencing platform, Zoom, this afternoon. 

The webinar, titled “Tackling the challenge of maintaining a Cleaner Pacific amidst a pandemic and disaster situation,” looked at challenges faced by small countries in the Pacific in dealing with a pandemic or disaster. It is the second webinar to take place as part of the “Transitioning to a post-COVID-19 Pacific” series launched by SPREP last week. 

SPREP Director General, Mr Kosi Latu, opened the webinar by covering some of the perceived impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and exploring the nexus of people’s health and the protection of the environment. 

“A health crisis means that we are expecting more waste, some of which is toxic, coming from our healthcare facilities. This is what is called healthcare medical waste. In normal times, these are wastes we have to deal with on a daily basis, however, during a health crisis such as the COVDI-19 pandemic, we are now faced with the task of having to get rid of these as soon as possible,” he said. 

Mr Latu pointed out that in order for countries to have the capacity to deal with this, they need a medical waste treatment facility, personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers dealing with healthcare medical waste, as well as the knowledge to handle and manage these wastes.

“Improper management of wastes to a greater extent would mean that we are creating pathways to contamination, and this will eventually compromise public health. 

“Increased volume of wastes during a health crisis or disaster is inevitable. With limited capacity of our waste facilities in the Pacific, there is likelihood of significant wastes ending up in our oceans and the environment in general. Unmanaged wastes then become lingering pollutants,” Mr Latu added. 

The effective management of medical waste is crucial, and according to SPREP’s Hazardous Waste Management Adviser, Mr Joshua Sam, when it comes to managing waste during a health crisis, there are three key steps which must be followed. 

“First, there needs to be clear responsibilities of who is in charge of medical waste. Medical waste passes through different streams before they are disposed, and there are a number of players involved – including healthcare waste facilities, transport and so forth. A clear indication of who is responsible for managing these wastes is necessary,” Mr Sam said. 

Mr Sam also said that a clear allocation of resources is needed. Sufficient resources need to be provided to committees in charge of medical waste, particularly institutions responsible for testing and treating patients, and who are the first responders during the pandemic.  

“Thirdly is the designing of effective medical waste management plans. It is important during pandemics that the institutions in charge of medical waste have in place plans either facility-wide plans or if you have systems where some of your facilities off-site or quarantine and self-isolation sites, it is very important that there is a plan in place to deal with medical waste.”

Ms Mesepa Loleni from the Healthcare Department of the Samoa Ministry of Health revealed that one of the major challenges they faced in regard to the management of healthcare medical waste during the measles epidemic and also at present during the COVID-19 pandemic, is the lack of resources.

“The limited resources is an ongoing issue for us when it comes to healthcare waste. At the moment, we have two trucks used to transport healthcare waste – one for Upolu and one for Savaii. One of the key challenges for us right now is trying to improvise with the resources we have in order to deal with the increased volume of waste as a result of quarantine,” Ms Loleni said. 

“With hotel quarantine and home quarantine, there has been an increased number of waste we have had to collect as a result. With only one truck and one incinerator at the moment, we are trying our best to make use of what we have,” she added. 

“Usually when using the incinerator to destroy medical waste, we would have two burn cycles a day. However, during the measles epidemic, and now with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have now increased this to four burn cycles a day to cater to the increased amount of medical waste,” Ms Loleni concluded as saying. 

Speaking from Fiji via live video link, Mr Shalend Singh, Senior Health Inspector with the Lautoka City Council, also shared their experiences and the challenges they faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Some of the challenges and impacts on waste management due to COVID-19 included the diversion of waste to Sigatoka from Nadi Town due to the lockdown, the unavailability of spare parts for waste management plants and machinery, as well as the unavailability of PPE for waste management frontline workers due to the global effect of rush shopping or panic-buying. 

There was also the challenge of managing increased TC Harold disaster waste amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 
Mr Latu concluded the webinar by saying that the challenge remains – our region needs to be prepared and to develop further resilience. 

“There is no harm in hoping for the best as long as you’re prepared for the worst.” 

This webinar is available on SPREP's YouTube channel at this link

To register for the next webinar, titled “Double Jeopardy: COVID-19 brings heat to Climate Change urgency”, please click on this link

For more information on today’s webinar, please contact Mr Anthony Talouli, Acting Director, Waste Management and Pollution Control programme, at [email protected]. If you would like to know more about the “Transitioning to a post-pandemic Pacific” webinar series, please contact Ms Nanette Woonton, Acting Communications and Outreach Adviser, at [email protected].