Medical waste management in Bangladesh

Published : 19 Sep 2023 09:38 PM

Medical waste management is a worldwide concern due to insufficient treatment and disposal methods, which carry serious health and environmental risks. This mismanagement involves handling contaminated items such as needles, syringes, and bandages, leading to potential infections, diseases, and health hazards for workers. Additionally, it contributes to environmental pollution, contaminates water sources, and results in air pollution. Mismanagement can erode public trust in healthcare institutions, disrupt ecological balance, and impose long-term economic costs on both communities and governments.

Improper medical waste management can lead to infections, diseases, health risks, environmental pollution, loss of trust, ecological imbalances, and long-term economic costs. Like many developing nations, Bangladesh, grappling with this issue, now has a chance to embrace technological advancements, notably in artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), to transform its medical waste management system. We can explore pio kineering technology initiatives from Asia and other developing regions, advocating for their integration to address Bangladesh's medical waste challenges.

The lingering predicament: Bangladesh faces severe consequences due to inadequate legislation and a lack of waste management plan. According to a study published in 2022, Medical waste generation in Dhaka is 1.63-1.99 kg per bed per day, and increased significantly after COVID-19. For the longest time, the country's management has been inadequate to say the least, with no safe system for segregating, transporting, treating, and disposing of waste. The challenge is also prevalent in regions mainly consisting of a vulnerable population. The ICRC has established five medical waste management facilities in the Cox's Bazar district's Teknaf, Ukhiya, Chakaria, Ramu, and Pekua health complexes between 2015 and 2021 and as a part of this effort has set up medical waste management services to support health complexes in Cox's Bazar district. Yet the problem still lingers on, affecting people across Bangladesh. 

Currently, multiple entities in Bangladesh work towards preventing the dangers of mismanaged medical waste like PRISM Bangladesh, Waste Concern, the Centre for Sustainable Development (CSD), the Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO), and the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research (ICDDR, B)

PRISM Nangladesh, a non-governmental organisation, focuses on improving health and environment in Bangladesh by ensuring proper medical waste management. They provide training, awareness, collection, transportation, treatment and disposal services for medical waste. They also advocate for robust frameworks and foster a culture of responsible waste management. 

However, despite the best efforts of entities like PRISM Bangladesh and other major stakeholders, ensuring proper medical waste management in Bangladesh is challenging. However, we may find the path to a sustainable solution with the right tools and approaches. 

The promise of technology: As we pivot towards a tech-driven future, harnessing technologies like AI, blockchain, IoT, and Big Data can revolutionise medical waste management in Bangladesh. AI can optimise waste processes using predictive analytics and image recognition, while blockchain ensures transparency and traceability. IoT devices offer real-time monitoring of fill levels and GPS tracking, preventing overflows. Big Data analytics provide insights into waste generation patterns and compliance. Integrating these technologies can mitigate health and environmental hazards while optimizing efficiency.

Tech innovations in developing nations: In recent years, the world has witnessed a transformative shift towards embracing technology in various other sectors, alongside in the realm of medical waste management. Noteworthy examples include China's IoT-based medical waste monitoring system that employs AI and face recognition. Turkey's solution integrates IoT and blockchain to bolster transparency. India applies AI for household waste classification, while Thailand's image recognition-based system enhances waste sorting. Singapore employs IoT for real-time waste level tracking.

Bangladesh can consider adopting these innovations in tech-driven medical waste management by assessing local needs, tailoring technology, implementing AI, training stakeholders, ensuring regulatory compliance, pilot projects, public-private partnerships, and continuous improvement. The government can drive change through collaborations, capacity building, policy frameworks, pilot projects, and fostering awareness. Something disruptive is imperative in order to mitigate the major dangers that may concur following the mismanagement of medical waste in Bangladesh. 

Bangladesh's medical waste management demands immediate attention. By embracing AI, IoT, and other technologies, Bangladesh can revolutionize waste management, protecting public health and the environment. Government initiatives can catalyse this change, foster collaborations, and empower stakeholders to adopt and sustain these innovative solutions. The future of sustainable medical waste management in Bangladesh lies in its technological transformation.

Nafiz Farhan, Young Professional (Smart Health Accelerator) at a2i