By Onche Odeh
The decision by the Governments of Nigeria and other countries in Africa to make the use of face masks in public mandatory as a step towards containing the spread of COVID-19 could boomerang and become the trigger for the very problem they want to control, unless a strict measure for disposing the masks are instituted and enforced, public health experts in Nigeria have said.
Face masks are classified as infective medical condition wastes that may have been contaminated by COVID-19 and other organisms capable of causing disease in healthy humans.
In January, Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari signed the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Health Protection Regulations which makes the use of face masks in any public place compulsory, and an offence not to wear one, a move aimed at curtailing the spread of the novel coronavirus disease in Nigeria.
Good as this policy announcement is, experts are saying it requires a second leg that mandates its proper disposal to prevent self-and environmental contamination as well as the increased risk of transmission of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.
The President of Nigeria Infectious Disease Society (NIDS), Professor Dimie Ogoina In an article published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene https://www.ajtmh.org/view/journals/tpmd/103/3/article-p965.xmlalerted on the consequence of inappropriate disposal of face masks.
In the article titled: Improving Appropriate Use of Medical Masks for COVID-19 Prevention: The Role of Face Mask Containers, Prof Ogoina expressed concern about how face masks are handled and disposed, warning that this could negate efforts towards the control of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.
“Inappropriate use and disposal of face masks in Nigeria could promote the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country and negate the country’s efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Similarly, Public Health Physician, Dr Oladoyin Odubanjo has said there is a need to aggressively educate the people on how to properly dispose of face masks as infective medical condition wastes.
In his response to AfricaSTI, Dr. Odubanjo who is also Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) https://nas.org.ng/said, “If we wouldn’t shake hands with someone who just wiped mucus from their nostrils with their bare hands or saliva from their mouths, we shouldn’t want to discard face masks indiscriminately.”
Commenting on consequences of indiscriminate disposal of face masks, he said, “Such indiscriminate disposal of face masks will only increase the possibility of spreading whatever germs may be on the masks to the general public.”
The experts have respectively urged the government to make public sensitization on proper disposal of face mask a critical part of all COVID-19 intervention programmes currently targeted at public enlightenment.
“In the implementation of the universal masking policy in Nigeria, federal and state governments ought to consider local applicability, feasibility, and sustainability, as well as identify and mitigate all potential risks and unintended consequences. Also critical is the need for intensive public sensitization and education on appropriate use and disposal of face masks in the country,” Ogoina, a Professor of Medicine and Infectious Disease at the Niger Delta University, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State noted.
Dr. Odubanjo on his part said, “They (authorities) need to aggressively educate people on proper disposal of masks as the masks should be considered as infective/medical condition waste.”
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Conference of Parties to the Bamako Convention on the Ban of the Import into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Wastes within Africa https://www.unep.org/explore-topics/environmental-rights-and-governance/what-we-do/meeting-international-environmentalhas alerted that the current COVID-19 pandemic is generating huge amounts of hazardous medical waste that may result in grave health and environmental outcomes in Africa.
Arlette Soudan-Nonault who is President of the Bureau was quoted in statement as saying that “With the increased medical waste generation as countries respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, Africa will continue to face waste disposal challenges.”
Soudan-Nonault noted that addressing these challenges are more urgent, adding that the Convention must play its role in raising awareness among African countries to strengthen the control of their borders to ensure protection of the environment and the health of their populations.