South-South Health Care Waste Skill share Partnership: Tackling the root of the problem

I only feel angry when I see waste. When I see people throwing away things we could use.
Mother Teresa (1910-1997), A Gift for God, 1975

It was in May that an initial Health care waste Skills share was conducted in Mozambique, Maputo. This visit was part of a wider visit, which took place in November when an expert from India visited hospitals in South Africa and Mozambique to share their knowledge regarding health care waste management. Sristhi, an NGO in New Delhi, has already done great work since 1995 in transforming some of their worst hospitals into model institutions. Such expertise from India has been essential for South Africa and Mozambique since the situation in India has been similar to that of Africa’s. The November skills share conducted was an exciting opportunity since it was a collaboration between NGOs from South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland and India.

Since groundWork will be publishing a manual entitled, ‘Managing hospital waste: A guide for Southern African hospital institutions’, hospital personnel from Edendale and Ngwelezana were called into workshop the manual with the collaborating NGO’s. I was glad to see that at the end of the workshop the contents of the manual had been strengthened because of added experiences from the hospitals and international guests.

The skillshare group also had the opportunity to visit groundWork’s model hospitals to be used as case studies in the manual. Participants witnessed the improvements made at the institutions since groundWork’s intervention in 2001. The hospitals stated additional challenges they were facing e.g. donations of digital thermometers, the behaviour of doctors in the program etc. Sristhi recommended further improvements that could be made at the institutions.

The skill share team also visited NGO Livaningo in Mozambique. Two hospitals were visited; Maputo Central and Maverlane hospitals. The skill share team was shocked to see that waste management in Maputo did not exist, with the result that infectious healthcare waste was being dumped on municipal dumpsites where people scavenged for an existence and were exposed to the possibility of being contaminated by pathogens from blood and human tissue on medical waste products.

We also visited government officials and were sad to hear that to address the problem of waste the Department of Health had invested huge amounts of money and purchased two incinerators. I felt really angry that government had taken such a decision since incinerators create dangerous emissions like dioxins and furans that are carcinogenic (cancer-causing) in nature but also destroy resources, which can potentially generate income. Incineration is being phased out worldwide including in South Africa (KwaZulu-Natal) and India.

Overall, I felt the assistance from India to be of tremendous benefit since this developing country has shared their expertise with Africa, shifting the reliance away from being dominated by experts in the north. It has also been essential in terms of finding developing country solutions for developing countries. A report will be formulated by groundWork and Sristhi on how the institutions toured can better manage their hospital wastes.

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