Safe and sustainable disposal of medical waste is causing concern among environmental observers, fuelled by the apparent refusal of some health professionals to comply with existing regulations.
Despite current legislation stipulating that medical providers must cooperate with licensed companies to collect, transport and manage the waste they generate, many private doctors are failing to do so, according to the hazardous waste management association (Sedea).
Less than a quarter of private doctors inducted into Gesy appropriately dispose of the waste generated by their practices – 667 out of a total of 2,791 (2,079 specialists and 712 general practitioners) according to official data, the organisation notes.
Despite repeated appeals by Sedea to the health insurance organisation (HIO), urging for compliance with regulations by all doctors and health facility operators, there has been no response to date the association told the Cyprus Mail, noting that the last official communication with the HIO was several months ago.
Currently three companies are licenced to deal with medical waste but despite their efforts to educate doctors, both on their legal obligations and the health risks of non-compliance, the illegality continues, Sedea spokesman Giorgos Vouvakos said.
“Almost all other services, such as labs and veterinary clinics, are in compliance or enroute to compliance with dentistry service providers at 100 per cent,” Vouvakos noted.
“The biggest problem is private doctors who are refusing to pay the €300 annual fee [per head] for a once-weekly waste collection.”
The HIO, as well as the medical association currently seem ineffectual or unwilling to pressure doctors who fail to comply, and they are not subject to any punitive action.
Senior officer Theodoulos Mesimeris, however, speaking on behalf of the environment department, said the matter was not quite so black-and-white.
Asked about the extent of the problem in Cyprus, Mesimeris sought to point out that overall, the management of medical waste is being carried out correctly.
“All large medical centres, public hospitals etc are in compliance with waste disposal legislation and are monitored in this regard,” the official said.
The environment department intends to carry out a door-to-door awareness campaign aimed at private doctors to ascertain to what degree they may be out of compliance and fines will be issued by the agriculture ministry, which is the relevant supervisory authority for the matter.
“The numbers do not necessarily provide the full picture,” Mesimeris explained, noting that many private doctors, such as psychiatrists and others may not in fact produce hazardous waste of the type handled by the three aforementioned companies.
Reports from Limassol, backed by the sanitation services, confirm that facilities have been known to dispose of waste in common rubbish bags, according to Philenews.
The already problematic waste management facility at Pentakomo has also complained to the environment department about the issue of unprocessed medical waste.
Legislation governing the proper disposal of medical waste extends to dentist’s offices, microbiological laboratories, veterinary clinics, blood donation centres, diagnostic and research laboratories and tattoo shops, as well as state and private doctors’ offices and healthcare centres.
According to Sedea, which is expected to bring the matter before parliament, the haphazard management of medical waste poses long-term as well as immediate threats to workers, public health and the environment.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that the safe and environmentally sound management of health care wastes is necessary to prevent the unintended release of chemical or biological hazards, including drug-resistant microorganisms.
Of the total amount of waste generated by health-care activities about 85 per cent is general, non-hazardous waste, according to the organisation. The remaining 15 per cent is considered hazardous material that may be infectious, toxic or radioactive, and includes discards ranging from contaminated needles and gauze to human tissue or organs.
In Cyprus, the management of waste from medical facilities is strictly regulated by European and national legislation. Sedea members which operate facilities in heavy industrial zones, including for non-medical hazardous waste processing, are the only licensed authority on the island.