First, they pinch. Then they pollute. Syringes hurt in life as well as in after-life. But things might change. More than six months after a unique demonstration across the country, the Philippine department of health and Health Care Without Harm (hcwh), an international coalition of health care professionals and community groups, have unveiled to the rest of the world a safer, cleaner and cheaper option. "Immunisation programs are expanding around the world but we need to make sure that we don't solve one health problem by creating new health problems," said Merci Ferrer, hcwh Asia coordinator.
The traditional practice of incineration has harmful consequences; it pollutes the air with dioxins and toxins. This led the Philippine department of health and the hcwh to explore other options. In 1999, the Philippines became the first country to ban burning of medical waste and now they have come up with this new method of treating waste. The Philippine Follow-up Measles Campaign 2004 was to demonstrate the efficacy of the project. Around 18 million children were vaccinated and nearly 19.5 million syringes, amounting to 1,30,000 kg of waste, were amassed.
The department of health issued waste management guidelines prior to the vaccination drive. Some of the options outlined for dealing with the waste were -- treatment in an autoclave or microwave, encasement in a concrete septic tank or burial in a waste pit. Needle destroyers were also used in some places. The syringes were collected in 1,62,000 safety boxes.
A cost analysis revealed that simple clay lined burial pits were the cheapest option, followed by, centralised treatment using autoclave and microwave technology. The cost of treating 120 safety boxes in clay-lined pits was just us $2, as opposed to the us $137 spent when the same was buried in concrete vaults. The government has now decided to use this method for all future -- routine as well as special -- immunisation programmes.