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Jamaica’s capability to dispose of medical waste has been significantly boosted, with the official opening of the National Medical Waste Management Plant on November 29.

The facility, located at 15-17 Drummond Street in downtown Kingston, was established at a cost of US$3 million. It is the island’s first state-of-the-art non-incineration automated medical waste plant and is expected to improve the management of waste from healthcare facilities, using a steam sterilisation and shredding technology.

Speaking at the ceremony, Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, said for the first time, Jamaica has a modern facility to process medical waste that pose a serious public health risk.

The central features of the new programme and strategy revolve around the following principles: waste minimisation; waste segregation; and the establishment of regional waste collection and treatment facilities.

Dr. Ferguson said that the creation of environmentally sound treatment plants is critical, noting that prior to the establishment of the facility, most of the medical waste generated in the island was treated by onsite incineration technology predominantly at the hospitals and some health centres islandwide.   

He added that most facilities opt to treat their wastes with old, inadequate, inefficient incinerators or burn boxes.

“This practice causes the emission of large amounts of dioxins, furans and volatile organic compounds which are highly carcinogenic. When medical wastes are burnt or dumped haphazardly, there are also life threatening concomitant risks to human health by contamination of the environment,” he said.

Effects on human health and the environment include: increase in the risk of cancer, liver damage, weakened immune system, skin rash, reproductive disorders, among others.

The Minister informed that an estimate by the Ministry indicates that the sector generate approximately 1,596 tonnes of medical waste annually, of which 83 per cent is produced by public health care facilities.

Meanwhile, Director, National Waste Management Plant, Navarine Hylton, pointed out that the entire cycle of waste disposal is now approximately one hour.

“This plant was built to deal primarily with the infectious and pathological waste coming from our health facilities. We have a total treatment capacity of approximately 1,000 tonnes per year and we are also expecting to have a contract award shortly for the addition of two specialised medical waste trucks,” she said.

The Ministry’s action to reform its waste disposal procedures began in earnest in 2004 with the undertaking of a comprehensive development policy, which involved a review of the existing waste management plan.

Funding for the initiative was obtained from the World Bank under the National HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Project. The facility is the third of its kind in the English speaking Caribbean.