June 30, 2015 / 3:41 PM / 2 years ago

Efficient stove technology eases N. Kenya's medical waste problem

WAMBA, Kenya, June 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Poor weather, security threats and bad roads have made disposing of the Wamba district hospital’s medical waste a challenge.

The nearest incinerator is about 200 kilometres (125 miles) away and “travelling was not possible during heavy rains because connecting roads were cut off by floods,” said Stephen Lesrumat, a medic at the hospital.

But now the north-central Kenyan hospital has a solution to its problems, and a way of cutting climate changing emissions and deforestation: A high-efficiency medical waste incinerator that uses just a fifth the fuel of a traditional incinerator.

The wood burner, which takes advantage of powerful winds in the region to drive the flames, borrows technology from fuel-efficient stoves. It can safely eliminate waste produced by the Wamba hospital and by 22 other health centres in Samburu County, said Lesrumat and Ibrahim Lokomoi, the facility’s engineer.

“It has reduced the burden of travelling outside the county to get rid of medical waste,” Lesrumat said, sparing hospitals a potentially dangerous build-up of medical waste during periods when roads are impassible.

During previous flood periods, when hospital waste could not be transported, “I was worried because the waste is toxic,” Lesrumat said. “It could cause health and environment damage if it accidentally spilled into the community.”

Run-ins with al Shabaab militants can also be a hazard for some medical workers in Kenya driving long distances in their jobs, medics said.

“Northern Kenya is very expansive and has so many challenges that the government struggles to deliver services,” said Onyango Okoth the assistant commissioner of Samburu County.

Now the Wamba incinerator handles between 5 and 20 kilograms of medical waste a day.

As the burner operates, a young worker clad in protective clothing flips open the lid of the chamber to monitor the process of incineration.

Seeing the last batch of waste is almost eliminated, he reaches for a barrel containing an assortment of used rubber gloves, syringes and polythene waste, pours in some of the waste, mixes it with a forked rod and then replaces the lid to allow the incineration to continue.

The Centers for Diseases Control in Kenya estimates that every patient admitted in a hospital generates at least 0.5 kilograms of medical waste. The National Environment Management Authority requires every health facility to dispose of medical waste through incineration.

SOLAR INCINERATION?

The next step, Kenyan clean energy experts say, may be to begin incinerating waste using even more sustainable sources of energy, such as solar power.

“Kenya is investing heavily in alternative energy sources,” said Johnson Kimani of the Kenya Climate Change Working Group. “Solar and biogas should be factored into medical waste incineration if the government is committed to its pledge of achieving a green economy.”

James Lebasha, of the International Medical Corps, which helped construct the Wamba incinerator, said the burner may be just the first for the region.

“We hope to build more units in morthern Kenya to enable communities access this service,” he said. (Reporting by Kagondu Njagi; editing by Laurie Goering :; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women’s rights, trafficking and corruption. Visit www.trust.org/climate)

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