Liberia: Burning Ebola waste safely

February 2015

Every day, every bed in an Ebola treatment unit creates approximately 300 litres of liquid and solid waste. Managing this health-care waste has been a challenge in the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. WHO is working with partners to ensure this waste is effectively decontaminated and no longer poses a threat to health.

WHO team assists in ensuring safe operation of special incinerators to burn health-care waste.
WHO team assists in ensuring safe operation of special incinerators to burn health-care waste.
WHO/R. Sørensen

Every person who enters an Ebola treatment unit to care for patients, clean the area or or even simply just to visit must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) which is removed and disposed of when they leave.

This means that, for every patient treated more than 4 PPE kits per patient per day become waste. Disposing of this mountain of contaminated waste safely has been a massive challenge. Some Ebola treatment units have had to burn this waste in piles in the open air, causing anxiety in neighbouring communities.

Jonathan Kerkul has received training by WHO, and became the Incinerator Operator at the Ebola treatment unit, Liberia.
Jonathan Kerkul was trained by WHO to be an incinerator operator, Liberia
WHO/R. Sørensen

At the Island Clinic in Monrovia, Liberia, this problem was solved when special incinerators were purchased with funding from the World Bank. These burn the personal protective equipment and other contaminated materials at a very high temperature safely.

A WHO team guided their installation and assisted in ensuring their safe operation, with support from the United Nations Office for Project Services. Training staff to handle and burn the waste correctly was crucial for ensuring safe disposal of the contaminated material.

WHO trained and supervised the waste disposal and incineration teams to make certain they knew how to protect themselves and what procedures should be followed to work safely.

Jonathan Kerkul, a civil engineering student, who was trained by WHO to be an incinerator operator explained that although his job might be considered dangerous, he is proud to be involved in ending Ebola. "It is risky, but I am happy to contribute to getting Ebola out of my country" says Jonathan.