Legal and Political Issues

Currently, there is no international legal structure that deals specifically with medical waste management.  This is a gap that should be filled; many countries still have no binding legislation and a recent report by the UN Human Rights Council found that poor medical waste management damaged several different human rights, including the rights to life and health, and to safe and healthy working conditions.   

There are three main international points of reference for policy on medical waste management -- the World Health Organization, the Stockholm Convention and the Basel Convention. 

The World Health Organization has both a policy on medical waste management and core principles, which call on key stakeholders, including governments and donors to assign enough resources to the subject.  

The Basel Convention, which was created to curb the international trade in hazardous wastes, defines healthcare waste, and some subsets of it, such as pharmaceutical waste, and hazardous wastes.  This means that any import or export of waste should be conducted according the rules of the Convention, which  includeing a ban on the export of theses wastes from OECD countries to non-OECD countries.  Unfortunately, the Convention it does not apply if waste is kept in the country where it was generated, which is the norm for medical wastes.

The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants aims to reduce, restrict and eliminate 252 chemicals or groups of chemicals, including the dioxins and furans.  These are unintentionally produced by industrial processes such as the production of PVC and waste incineration.  The Convention calls on parties to prioritize non-incineration technologies to reduce emissions of these most toxic of chemicals.

The creation of international laws based on these foundations would greatly assist national governments to regulate medical waste management in their countries and reduce the harm that is currently done to human health, human rights and the environment.


Key resources