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Smoke settles as waste finally treated

Update: November, 01/2015 - 05:27
Modern marvel: Hospital staff are photographed with the newly installed medical waste autoclave at Ngan Son District Hospital in Ngan Son District, Bac Kan Province. — Photos courtesy of Lux Development

Impoverished communities that were forced to burn or bury hazardous trash are now using autoclave machines to treat medical waste. More than a hundred health centres in two northern mountainous provinces now use them. Emily Petsko reports.

Plumes of thick smoke were once a regular sight for villagers living near health centres in the northern mountainous provinces of Cao Bang and Bac Kan. Faced with funding shortages, the communities had no choice but to burn or bury the hazardous medical waste their health facilities discharged.

That is now changing, thanks to the establishment of a shared network of autoclave machines used to treat medical waste in six district hospitals (DHs) and 108 commune health centres (CHCs), the primary source of health care for ethnic minorities in the region. For the first time, this "green" technology was brought to Viet Nam's commune and provincial levels.

The project is a collaborative effort between the Centre for Health Environment Information (VIHEMA) and the Luxembourg Agency for Development Co-operation (Lux Development).

Be Thi Bach, coordinator of the Cao Bang Project Management Unit within the district's health department, said the use of autoclaves had improved the environment drastically.

"In the past, the district hospital would treat medical waste by incinerator directly, and this created a bad smell and pollution to the surrounding air," Bach said. "With this new technology, we can avoid the environmental pollution and water pollution."

Dr Nguyen Huy Nga, a professor and senior consultant for the Ministry of Health, said Ha Quang District in Cao Bang Province suffered the brunt of pollution because its health facility had a malfunctioning incinerator.

"Some incinerators are already old, they went out of service or they create smoke with a bad smell," he said of the situation CHCs faced prior to the installation of autoclaves.

Pollution of the past: Pictured is an old incinerator used at a health facility in Banh Trach Commune, Ba Be District in Bac Kan Province.

Foul-smelling smoke frequently wafted into rooms of the Ha Quang health facility, prompting many complaints from doctors and patients, Nga said.

In addition to the smoke and air pollution, the health facilities had also been incorrectly sorting waste, often combining infectious materials with regular ones.

To combat these practices, the project provided training to medical staff, which gave them the tools to correctly sort waste and use the autoclave machines. The project provided autoclaves to six district hospitals and 17 CHCs, which have organised a network to accept waste from other CHCs in the two provinces that do not have autoclaves. Once the waste has been treated, it is transported to a landfill.

Going forward, health facility managers said they would like to take the green project one step further by recycling waste that has already been sanitised, including plastic and glass products.

Ha Cat Truc, coordinator of the Bac Kan Project Management Unit within the district's health department, said they were requesting a shredder machine to cut the amount of waste they process.

"And if we don't have the shredder system, the volume of the medical waste outcome will be huge, and it will not be welcomed by the people, so we now are proposing for that system," Truc said.

Nga said healthcare managers and employees have welcomed the new technology, adding, "They think that the new system of autoclaves is safer". — VNS

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