As NESREA moves against COVID-19

The high rate of fatality across the globe since the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019, has put leaders on edge to save their citizenry from extermination. With over 2, 261, 425 cases and over 154, 734 deaths in 210 countries and territories around the world and two international conveyances, coronavirus has, no doubt, posed the greatest threat to humanity in contemporary times.

In Nigeria, almost 900 people have contracted the coronavirus pandemic while about 30 have died including the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Malam Abba Kyari, who died on April 17, 2020. Although the fatality rate of COVID-19 is relatively low in Nigeria, the federal government’s response to the  first index case in Lagos in February 2019 was spontaneous and proactive in containing the spread of the pandemic. President Buhari in a nationwide broadcast announced the lockdown of Lagos and Osun states as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) , which had index cases of COVID-19, as parts of measures to contain the spread of the pandemic.

As one of the federal government agencies critical in the fight against COVID-19 in Nigeria, the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) is not resting on its oars as it has swiftly moved to enforce the guidelines on infectious waste. A statement containing the guidelines entitled, Guidelines for Handling Infectious Waste Within the Context of Coronavirus (COVID-19), was signed by the NESREA Director General/CEO, Professor Aliyu Jauro.

According to the statement, COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. The disease affects the respiratory system and can be transmitted from person to person through contact with small droplets produced by coughing, sneezing or talking. These aerosolized droplets eventually settle on surfaces and objects, where they become avenues for secondary infection by people touching the surfaces and then eyes, nose and mouth.

Within the context to the global pandemic of COVID-19, the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) recognizes the decontamination of surfaces using combating the coronavirus not all disinfectants are employed rather those with activity such as chlorine and alcohol based.

NESREA explained that an infectious waste can be defined as waste suspected to contain pathogens e.g. laboratory cultures, waste from isolation wards, tissues (swabs) materials, or equipment that have been in contact with tubing, catheters, IGS toxins, live or attenuated vaccines soiled plasters and other materials contaminated with blood, urine, sputum, faces of infected parson.

Within the context of the above definition all materials including personal protective equipment (PPE) used for the purpose of treatment of COVID-19 that had been declared a global pandemic are considered an infectious waste.

In one of the World Health Organization Technical Briefs on COVID-1, it was stated that there will be a surge in the amount of healthcare waste as the pandemic spreads and that containment and disposal of same may pose challenges until the pandemic is over.

It is instructive that in order to ensure environmentally sustainable use of chemicals, the federal government established the NESREA by Establishment Act 2007 LFN and NESREA amended Act 2018. Thus, the agency has the powers to prohibit processes, equipment or technology that undermine environmental quality. Pursuant to the above, NESREA is enforcing the provisions of the National Environmental (Chemical Pharmaceuticals, Soap and Detergent Manufacturing Industry) Regulations S.I. No 36, 2009 and the National Environmental (Hazards Chemical and Pesticides) Regulation S.I. 65.

NESREA stated that in line with international best practice, medical waste generated from the treatment of highly contagious diseases such as COVID-19 can only be managed in accordance with routine practices since no new regulations have been made to address it. It, therefore, advised that waste handlers wear appropriate clothing including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): e.g. boots, aprons, long-sleeve gowns, thick gloves, mask, or face shields; generators are responsible for packaging the waste for transport to treatment facilities; and each containerized infectious waste must be securely closed, among others.

The agency said according to the provisions of the National Environmental (Sanitation and Waste Control) Regulations S.I No.28, 2009, the following are required to be implemented by the health care facilities generating infectious wastes to ensure environmentally sound management: Health care facilities treating COVID-19 patients should provide sealed receptacles for the waste materials; and Contaminated beddings should undergo steam sterilization and patients care wastes should be incinerated.

Others are Disposal Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) used by health workers involved with COVID-19 patients should be incinerated; Only properly kitted workers are allowed to evacuate or transport health care waste from isolation centers; Tertiary health care facilities are obliged to receive the infectious waste for incineration; and isolation centers currently without healthcare waste incinerators should liaise with the nearest tertiary health care facilities to incinerate their waste.

NESREA said it would also enforce the provisions of the National Environmental (Chemical Pharmaceuticals, Soap and Detergent Manufacturing Industry) Regulations S.I. No 36, 2009 and the National Environmental (Hazards Chemical and Pesticides) Regulation S.I. 65, 2014.

It is pertinent to observe that the enforcement of the Guidelines for Handling Infectious Waste Within the Context of Coronavirus (COVID-19) is one of the several strategic and pragmatic policies and programmes of  Professor Jauro since he took over the mantle of leadership of NESREA over a year ago.

As a matter of fact, Prof. Jauro has not only exceeded the expectations of Mr President but also  that of a large number of Nigerians and the nation’s international partners. Jauro’s policies have to a great extent helped at ensuring  the protection and development of  of the environment, biodiversity conservation and sustainable development of Nigeria’s natural resources in general and environmental technology including coordination, and liaison with relevant stakeholders within and outside Nigeria on matters of  enforcement of environmental standards regulations, rules, laws, policies and guidelines.

Many analysts and observes posit that Professor Jauro’s Midas touch at NESREA could largely account for the low infection and death toll of the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria which is over 20 compared to its ravaging effects in countries like the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain where the death toll runs in thousands.

Kera writes from Kaduna

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