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The   United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB), Department of Health (DOH), and BAN Toxics, together with EcoWaste Coalition and Healthcare without Harm-Southeast Asia (HCWH-SEA) have joined together to lead the launching of the five-year project funded by Global Environment Facility (GEF) focused on the reduction of unintended organic pollutants and mercury from healthcare wastes.

The groups marked the launch with a symbolic giant face mask, representing the powerful intersections between environmental justice and public health. It underscored the urgency to tackle these interconnected challenges, particularly as discussions unfold at the ongoing COP 28 climate talks in Dubai.

Undersecretary Jonas Leones, Policy Planning and International Affairs, welcomed the participants and highlighted the importance of the event launching as a catalyst to strengthen the capacities of public and private organizations towards sustainable and effective management of healthcare waste. He also added that this project will strengthen the partnership between UNIDO and the Philippines to deliver long-term interventions in pursuit of sustainable development goals.

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Mr. Teddy Monroy, UNIDO Country Representative, also joined the event and shared a message of support.  He mentioned that, “This project is a testament of the strong partnership between UNIDO and the Philippines. As a specialized agency of the United Nations mandated to advance sustainable industrial and economic development, we support the country in its development goals particularly in building green industries and services. Through this project, UNIDO will continue to complement government initiatives on public health and environmental safety. It hopes to help accelerate the post-pandemic recovery of the Philippines aligned with the renewed commitments under UNIDO’s Country Programming Framework, 2024 - 2029.”

 

Tackling the Surge in Healthcare Waste

The global COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges posed by the rapid growth of the healthcare sector, resulting in a substantial increase in the generation of infectious healthcare waste (HCW).

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The World Health Organization estimates that 85% of healthcare waste is general, non-hazardous, and 15% is hazardous, including infectious, chemical, or radioactive elements. Even before the pandemic, the Philippines faced insufficient disposal capacity, with 55,749 tons of infectious waste generated annually in 2018. The crisis prompted a 480% increase in hazardous and infectious waste generation from June 2020 to December 2021, as reported by the DENR-EMB online hazardous waste management system. Additionally, the government data in 2021 states  that over 234,000 MT of healthcare waste were generated, which is equivalent to a load of about 6,000 trucks.

In response to these challenges, the Philippine Healthcare and Mercury Wastes Management Project will introduce a comprehensive management approach that is focused on environmentally-sound practices. The project aims to introduce a comprehensive approach to minimize the impact of healthcare waste, particularly focusing on environmentally sensitive practices. Its objectives are centered around policy enhancement, technology implementation, and capacity building, the project aims to establish sustainable healthcare waste management practices.

 

Transforming Waste Management Practices

The project launch which was attended by more than 100 participants from different regional offices of DENR and DOH, civil society organizations, representatives from the healthcare sector, academe, private organizations, industry partners and the Ministry of Environment-Japan was designed to revolutionize healthcare waste management in the Philippines. It comes at a critical juncture amid challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event featured key insights from speakers such as Mr. Geri-Geronimo Sañez of EMB-DENR, who provided an overview of the current status of healthcare waste generation in the country. Dr. Laurence Elliot Tirol discussed challenges faced by healthcare facilities, while Dr. Carmela Centeno presented the project rationale and proposed implementation plan involving BAN Toxics. The session covered topics on Philippines-Japan cooperation on mercury management, best technologies for mercury-containing healthcare waste, TSD facility assessments, and healthcare waste management practices. Engr. June Philip Ruiz shared insight on best environmental practices for healthcare waste and discussed how it would be best implemented in the Philippine setting. While the members of the Project Steering Committee and Technical Working Group were also introduced by the EMB.

The event formally ended with keynote messages from GEF Operational Focal Point to the Philippines, Undersecretary Annaliza Rebuelta The and DENR-EMB Director Engr. Gilbert Gonzales.

Usec. Teh mentioned the importance of proactive actions of government, private and civil organizations to mitigate the harmful effects of mismanagement of healthcare wastes. She also mentioned that she has high hopes that implementing this project will bring positive change across all sectors.

Dir. Gonzales expressed his support and the organization’s active leadership and collaborative efforts with the stakeholders will ensure the success of the project. He hopes that at the end of the project implementation, the environment and public health sectors have effectively worked towards a common goal of achieving sustainability and a safer environment for all.

Dr. Carmela Centeno, Industrial Development Officer and Project Manager of UNIDO, stressed the contributions of the project as part of the event’s closing address. She mentioned, "The project's initiative addresses challenges through multifaceted actions, from strengthening regulations to introducing the best available technologies. We envision a Philippines prepared for future disturbances through our commitment to environmentally sound practices. As we gather today to recognize the importance of collaboration among government agencies, civil society organizations, private companies, and hospitals, let it be a celebration of our shared dedication to an environmentally secure and healthy future.”

Furthermore, Mr. Geri-Geronimo Sañez, Hazardous Waste and Management Section Chief  of DENR EMB, explained that "The pandemic has served as a catalyst in the transformative shift from mercury-containing medical thermometers to electronic devices, ushering in both progress and a new set of challenges. Discarded mercury devices, often improperly stored, demand our attention. Collaborating closely with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Health, and Ban Toxics, this project is designed to capacitate and strengthen governments, hospitals, healthcare workers, and waste management facilities, facilitate green financing schemes, bridge gaps, and foster innovation in waste management practices."


Safeguarding Health and Environment

The project addresses critical challenges in healthcare waste management, including insufficient infrastructure, improper disposal methods, and weak policies, all of which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. To add, the project aims to achieve the following:

%u25CF      Policies and Procedures: Develop and adopt policies and procedures to minimize healthcare waste, with special attention to pandemics, supporting MSMEs and managing potentially contaminated wastes.

%u25CF      Environmentally Sound Technology: Implement technology for the collection, treatment, and recycling of pandemic-generated wastes. Upgrade procedures towards low or zero-emission technologies.

%u25CF      Mercury Management: Establish improved synergies for the phase-out of Mercury-added Products (MAPs) and environmentally sound management of mercury wastes, adopting the best available technologies.

%u25CF      Capacity Building: Enhance capacities for environmentally sound management of infectious and hazardous wastes in the healthcare sector through awareness programs, training, and the establishment of a knowledge management system.

%u25CF      Three-Pronged Strategy: The project adopts a three-pronged strategy, emphasizing environmentally sound healthcare waste management, establishing scalable systems, and recognizing the pivotal role of women in healthcare and civil society.

From a global perspective, the project aims to contribute to improving human health by safeguarding the environment from emissions of global concern, such as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and mercury.  "This project is a crucial step towards a sustainable and environmentally friendly healthcare waste management system, ensuring the well-being of our communities." BAN TOXICS added during the interview.


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