The good, the bad, and the golden opportunity of pharmaceutical waste
Pharmaceuticals are essential for human and animal health, however more and more pharmaceutical residues are increasingly pervasive in our environment; surface, ground, and seawater globally. This is of course due to inappropriate disposal of pharmaceutical waste, which in turn are not only pollutants but also represent a vital healthcare resource wastage; losing potentially billions of US dollars (USD) (OECD, 2022).
Pharmaceutical waste is defined as medicines that are no longer of use as they may be unused and expired medicines (UEM), damaged or spilled, contaminated, or recalled. It also includes non-medicinal commodities such as bottles, vials, gloves, and masks (Mohammed et al., 2021).
The latest data from a World Health Organization (WHO) 2019 report indicates that one in every three health care facilities globally do not safely manage their health care waste. It is direr in the least developed countries (LDC), where one in every ten health care facilities have rudimentary health care waste management services. This results in a large amount of hazardous waste subjected to uncontrolled disposal in landfills, open burning, or use of decrepit incinerators that fail to meet international standards.
This is contributed by the lack of funding, necessary human resource, expertise, time, space, equipment, adequate training, available take-back schemes, and proper disposal of expired medicines that pharmacies, hospitals, and other health care facilities face. Whereas, in households, patients may recover quickly than anticipated, and have a change of treatment; such is the case of chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension, diabetes, or not adhering to the prescribed treatment (OECD, 2022).
Altogether, health care service providers and patients can solve this problem by preventing the overstocking of medicines, which results in them expiring before they are completely utilized. Prevention of UEM is thus indispensable.
Although pharmaceutical waste is an economic and environmental burden, particularly in the African continent, it presents a unique opportunity. According to this report: Africa Waste Management Outlook – Summary for Decision-makers carried out by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); granted this report was geared towards general solid and liquid waste, it was noted that 8 billion USD could be injected annually into the African economy, which in turn would create significant socio-economic opportunities for Africans, which can be achieved by diverting waste towards recovery, recycling or reuse.
This strategy can potentially create significant socio-economic opportunities for African communities, community pharmacies, wholesale-based pharmacies, African healthcare-based technologies, pharmaceutical companies, or advanced pharmaceutical waste treatment technologies. Putting into consideration, that it be performed responsibly and sustainably, to minimize negative environmental and human health impacts associated with the current poor pharmaceutical waste management practices observed in the African continent.
The fact is, Africa’s pharmaceutical market outlook is predicted to grow from approximately 28.56 billion US D to approximately 70 billion USD by 2030 (Goldstein™ Market Intelligence, 2020). This means an increased quantity of medicines will be consumed by the growing population and health care needs in the African continent. Thus, the cost of inaction in how we manage unused medicines and pharmaceutical waste is and will be significant, by causing devastating economic, social, environmental, and health impacts.
At the same time, the resource value locked up in Africa’s pharmaceutical waste is significant and presents a somewhat utopian social-economic opportunity for the continent. This is where we come in, at Pharvers, we have various strategies in helping to reduce pharmaceutical waste, by providing consultation on increasing efficiency in the pharmaceutical supply chain (PSC) and the pharmaceutical redistribution program. Read more about this on https://pharvers.com/consulting/ and https://pharvers.com/pharma-redistribution-program/
Anita is an experienced pharmacist with ten years in the industry. She is a certified data science and artificial intelligence Fellow and works as a data science associate.