National Action Plan for healthcare waste management in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka generates 7,000 Metric Tonnes (MT) of waste daily, of which only half of the total is collected and 60% (4,200 MT) comes from the Western Province, posing severe pollution risks; to the environment, communities and those who handle waste.

This issue of waste mismanagement, heightened due to COVID-19 in terms of Health Care Waste Management (HCWM) with the increase in the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and other protective measures taken to contain the spread of the virus. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sri Lanka, leveraging its global and regional expertise, supported the Government of Sri Lanka to conduct a Nationwide Rapid Assessment on HCWM, to inform the articulation of a National Action Plan, covering short and medium-term interventions in line with international best practices.

The workshop to inform the Formulation of the National Action Plan for Healthcare Waste Management in Sri Lanka was held recently at the BMICH in Colombo, facilitated by the Ministry of Health and UNDP in Sri Lanka with the attendance of relevant Government ministies, departments, academics, UN agencies and development sector stakeholders.

Speaking at the event, Dr. Inoka Suraweera, Consultant- Environment, Health, Occupational Health & Food Safety, Ministry of Health stated, “we greatly appreciate the valuable contributions from all stakeholders involved, from the process of the Rapid Assessment to the formulation of the National Action Plan. This is a timely and important exercise, and while thanking UNDP Sri Lanka for its collaboration with the Ministry, we look forward to working together in implementing the National Action Plan.”

The UN Sri Lanka’s Advisory Note on the socio-economic recovery from COVID-19 in Sri Lanka developed to inform the country’s recovery strategy identified five strategic priorities. This includes; protecting health systems during crises; social protection and other basic services; economic response and recovery; social cohesion and community resilience, and macro-economic response and multilateral cooperation. HCWM has been identified as a key area under the first strategic priority, from both the health systems and environmental perspective(s). Poor management of health care waste, in particular the hazardous components, potentially exposes health care workers, waste handlers, patients and the community at large to infection, toxic effects, injuries, and risks polluting the environment.

Speaking of the role of UNDP in Sri Lanka in this regard, Dr Buddika Hapuarachchi, Team Leader and Policy Specialist, Climate and Environment Team of UNDP in Sri Lanka stated, “In addition to the formulation of the National Action Plan, UNDP will support to pilot and demonstrate the important findings of the Rapid Assessment in two identified health care facilities. Further, UNDP will also support resource mobilization, especially in the areas of hazardous waste, as identified in the action plan in collboartion with the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Environment.”

Along with the presentation of the Rapid Assessment of HCWM in Sri Lanka, the workshop identified recommendations from the Rapid Assessment to be included in the National Action Plan for HCWM and will be the basis for developing proposals to mobilize funding for implementation.