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Danger! Infectious waste about us...

BY: Caroline Boateng

Used and improperly discarded nose and face masks, as well as face covers are infectious.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), infectious waste were all the medical materials and devices contaminated with blood and other bodily fluids.

Thus, nose masks, with contaminants of droplets from the mouth and nose, pose risks, hence the advice to medics to discard disposable ones with each use for a patient; and our medical facilities have protocols on the disposal of their waste material; thus, that does not pose any anxieties.

For all others who mostly use the reusable ones, the advice is to immediately change them when they become damp; then, we have to wash them, hang them in the sun to dry and iron before reusing once again.

Estimates

As COVID-19 rages, some estimates are that globally, 129 billion nose masks and 65 billion plastic gloves are used each month. What happens after we use them?

Internationally, conservationists are noticing discarded masks and gloves in oceans.

In far flung beaches such as the Soko Islands in Hong Kong; Bosporus in Turkey; Cote d'Azur, France and on beaches in London.

The indiscriminate disposal of masks and gloves are 'landing' in oceans and posing challenges to aquatic life.

Whales and fishes, thinking these are food, swallow them and harm themselves in the process.

Start

If in advanced countries the issue has become a challenge, then Ghana must start thinking through how it is going to tackle its masks waste before it gets out of hand.

This is especially so, when most Ghanaians have no 'mask etiquette' in its usage or disposal.

Many of us just shove the nose mask in to our back pockets, purses or keep them with the goods we sell.

We only wear them when challenged to do so, or when faced with the potential loss of a customer adamant about only buying from a masked trader or service provider.

The carelessness with which we use our masks, extends to the disposal of it when it is worn out.

Challenge

The problem lies with individuals and how they discard any personal protective equipment (PPE) used in protecting themselves from catching the virus, or used in preventing them from passing it on to others.

Already, our beaches, for lack of patrons and the necessary cleaning up for social gatherings, are unsightly with debris spewed out of the ocean.

It would be a pity to add on to that, discarded infectious materials such as the nose masks and latex gloves.

The caution on wearing nose masks and limiting the touching of the material to prevent contamination or infection is lost on most.

Task

The task for policy makers is enormous. Fortunately, however, Ghana does not have to reinvent the wheel but learn from international best practices and standards.

As messages about the contagion are regularly aired on TV, radio and other social media platforms, sensitisation to how to dispose of worn-out or spoilt reusable masks must also be part.

We must be sensitised to the fact that the disposal of  reusable masks, when done indiscriminately, can infect children who might pick them up to play with them.

Even when dropped in a trash can, without properly wrapping it up, the material can be potentially infectious and pose a danger to waste collectors.

Individuals, in taking charge of their lives in the observation of the social protocols to prevent infections, must also take charge and be responsible for the proper disposal of their own worn-out masks.

Households could burn them instead of throwing them into the bin. At the local level, district assemblies must deploy their communication channels and resources in sensitising communities.

At the national level, the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) and all others collaborating on various COVID-19 information and sensitisation messages should incorporate some material on the proper disposal of masks.

 

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