Safe waste disposal: a key to Infection Prevention and Control in Sierra Leone
Making strides to ensure secure waste management
Masongbo – It is the end of the weekly under-five immunisation session at the Masongbo Community Health Centre (CHC). Fatmata Kanu, a cleaner at the centre, gathers all sharps disposal boxes used during the session and takes them to the back of the facility for disposal in the newly constructed incinerators.
A year ago, the Masongbo CHC did not have such proper functioning waste disposal and management facilities. Contaminated needles, used bandages, and biohazard materials were burnt in open fires or buried in pits, posing a risk to the environment, health workers, and the community they serve. “It was challenging for me to perform my cleaning and waste disposal duties safely," Fatmata noted.
Providing access to adequate safe waste disposal and management facilities for the sanitary disposal of medical and other waste is vital to reducing the spread of infectious diseases at a facility like the Masongbo CHC, where over 9,000 people access health services.
With funds from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and support from UNICEF, the Masongbo CHC and nine other health facilities across 10 districts in Sierra Leone have now been equipped with functional incinerators to improve infectious waste management practices through the “Preventing and Responding to COVID-19 in Sierra Leone” project.
“At the end of every workday, especially after immunisation sessions, I now easily and safely dispose of the waste, especially the sharp objects,” says Fatmata. In addition, health centres (CHCs) have also been provided with logistical support to conduct outreach services aimed at reaching more people, including high-risk groups and remote communities with COVID-19 vaccination services. This enabled 16 district mobile vaccination teams and 251 CHCs to deliver COVID-19 vaccination services across the country.
The benefits of incinerators extend beyond health facilities. They play a crucial role in environmental protection by reducing solid waste volume, controlling air emissions through advanced pollution control measures, generating clean energy, safely disposing of hazardous materials, minimizing greenhouse gas emissions, and conserving land resources.
For Mariatu Tarawally, the EPI focal person at the Centre, incinerators are key tools in the battle against infections as they ensure that the healthcare environment remains clean and safe for health workers and the people they serve. "As a vaccinator, I've witnessed firsthand the power of prevention through vaccination, but incinerators are also very vital,” she says.
"Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) is a practical way of protecting infants from preventable diseases,” says Vandana Joshi, UNICEF Chief of Health and Nutrition. “We will keep working to make the required resources available in health facilities to help us sustain our efforts to ensure a healthy life for every child."
Today, at the Masongbo CHC, health workers care for their patients with renewed confidence. The incinerator has not only become an essential part of their daily routines but also a resource to support their collective efforts to prevent and control infection. Fatmata and her colleagues are positive that ensuring infection prevention and control is now achievable as they have a safe and efficient means of disposing of infectious waste, thereby reducing the risk of contamination and infection transmission. “Now my motivation for the job has increased. I can do my job more effectively because I don’t have to spend a lot of time waiting for sharp objects to burn or worry about keeping myself safe while I do my job or children picking them up,” she says.
Given the limited numbers of trained health personnel stationed in communities, this support will go a long way in boosting efforts to mitigate human-to-human transmission, including reducing secondary infections among close contacts. It will also contribute to keeping available personnel satisfied and motivated to stay on the job to keep fighting to reduce the high rates of maternal and infant deaths while also safeguarding the environment.