Coronavirus: where will high-risk medical waste go in SA?

18 March 2020 - 07:13 By Naledi Shange
Medical waste from tests and treatment of coronavirus patients needs to be carefully disposed of, says waste management company Averda.
Medical waste from tests and treatment of coronavirus patients needs to be carefully disposed of, says waste management company Averda.

Vehicle tracking and incineration are among the hazardous waste protocols that will be followed to ensure medical waste stemming from the coronavirus is safely disposed of. This is the assurance to the public from a company involved in the process.

Thashnee Budram, from waste management provider Averda, said most of the medical waste would contain infected medical fluids and could not be carelessly discarded.

Averda, which services government and private facilities, would be tasked with destroying some of the waste.

Budram expressed faith in SA's waste management systems, saying the country had an established hazardous waste management system which was compliant with global standards.

When it came to the destruction of waste resulting from the coronavirus tests and treatments, Budram said the waste would be packaged into multiple layers of thick plastic and boxes, and sterilised twice during the process.

“Assigned vehicles will then transport the waste to one of eight hazardous waste sites around the country,” Budram said.

These would incinerate the waste.

“The vehicle is tracked by GPS as it travels to the incinerator site and is not permitted to stop en route. The receiving team is notified of the vehicle’s arrival in advance and incinerator staff clear the loading bay of people.

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“Only a small number of specialist staff stay on hand, in full personal protective equipment (PPE) suits, to unlock and offload the cargo, which is immediately incinerated,” she said.

Averda said its health care incinerator in Klerksdorp had the capacity to incinerate up to 28 tonnes of waste a day, more than twice that of other incineration facilities in the country.

Budram said her company had experience in dealing with highly dangerous waste, having dealt with waste from the listeriosis outbreak in 2018, among other infections.

 “We have handled waste like this on numerous occasions, with the same SOPs as we are using for Covid-19. We are in communication with the department of health and the department of environmental affairs, and we report to them on a monthly basis, offering advice and training if and when they are setting up new quarantine sites,” says Budram.

She added that hospital staff were usually trained to deal with such waste, but hotels and airports would need to take extra caution.

Timelapse video shot at Melbourne's Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity shows a sample of the coronavirus successfully growing in the laboratory. It will provide expert international laboratories with crucial information to help combat the virus. The virus has so far killed at least 117 people and infected over 7000 people worldwide.