Jigmi Wangdi

The Government of Japan and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have handed over five specialised medical waste collection trucks to the Ministry of Health to enhance Bhutan’s healthcare waste management.

These trucks will be deployed in Thimphu, Gelephu, Wangdue, Mongar, and Phuntsholing, cities and towns that are struggling with the rising challenge of medical waste.

The ceremony was attended by Health Minister Tandin Wangchuk, Dr Mimi Lhamu, president of the National Medical Services, Yamashita Hiroyuki and Shun Hosaka, first and second secretaries, economic section, Embassy of Japan, and Mohammad Younus, UNDP Resident Representative.

Health ministry receives five specialised medical waste collection trucks

Officials from the Ministry of Health and other government agencies were also present.

The initiative is part of the “Project for Improvement of Infectious Waste Management”, a collaborative effort between the National Medical Services, Ministry of Health, UNDP, and the Government of Japan.

With a funding of USD 2 million, this project marks the latest venture of the ongoing Bhutan-Japan-UNDP partnerships aimed at strengthening Bhutan’s health system resilience.

Yamashita Hiroyuki highlighted Japan’s commitment to Bhutan’s development.

“Bhutan graduated from the Least Developed Country status last year, but the Government of Japan is committed to continuing economic cooperation by providing a mix of loans, technical assistance and grant aid. We will continue to be Bhutan’s key development partner. I deeply appreciate the valuable support from the Royal Government of Bhutan and UNDP and look forward to continued partnership,” he said.

Improper management of healthcare waste poses significant risks to both human health and the environment. Launched in September 2022, the project seeks to promote the safe and efficient handling of infectious healthcare waste.

The project has equipped 112 health centres across 15 dzongkhags and five cities with advanced waste management technologies, including fully automated autoclaves, quality PPE, and waste weighing scales.

These autoclaves ensure the proper treatment of infectious waste before incineration or disposal, thus preventing the spread of infections among patients, hospital staff, and surrounding communities.

The project has also introduced waste shredders to 15 health centres and installed 99 CCTVs in four municipalities to monitor and prevent illegal waste disposal.

Training has been a crucial component of the project with over 300 waste handlers from healthcare centres, municipalities, and private waste management firms across 12 western and southern districts receiving training in proper infectious waste treatment and handling.

Additionally, three biomedical technicians underwent specialised training in Spain for the maintenance of autoclaves, ensuring the longevity and efficiency of the equipment.

The initiative also addresses gender-specific challenges in healthcare waste management. Given that 56 percent of waste handlers in hospitals and primary healthcare centres are women, the project has worked to streamline gender considerations, improving the environment, services, and awareness around gender equality and related issues, such as sexual exploitation.

The project represents a significant step forward in Bhutan’s efforts to build a robust and sustainable healthcare waste management system with support from international partners.