We're a medical organization, but I'm working on the technical/support side as a logistician. I work with doctors, nurses, midwives, and all sorts of other medical personnel. I started in technical theater and moved through a variety of other fields before finding myself here in the middle of Africa as a logistician. I've never worked with medical personnel before, nor have I worked for a medical organization, so there's a lot to learn. One of the most important things to learn is the safe management of medical waste. That's pretty specific to working in a medical context, and it's entirely the responsibility of the logistics department.
I have learned about a vast variety of ways to dispose of many different types of waste. My guidebook is an MSF publication titled "Public Health Engineering In Precarious Situations" which makes me proud every time I glimpse the title. I'm doing engineering! For public health! In precarious situations! Everything about that makes me feel cool, useful, and fulfilled.
The guidebook teaches me about which types of waste can be safely incinerated or burned and which cannot (glass ampoules will explode when incinerated). I learn about sterilizing temperatures and purification times, including the interior thermodynamics and aerodynamics of specially designed incinerators. For instance, the height of a chimney drastically influences the airflow inside the incineration chamber of our model of locally-constructed incinerator, which changes the time the gases circulate and are exposed to sufficiently elevated temperatures to ensure sterilization.
I'm doing research and homework for the large-scale renovation of the district hospital's waste area (the French name is better, "Zone de Déchets"), which we're hoping to accomplish before the rains start in June. What I'm learning will also apply to the rural health centers, where we will rehabilitate or construct the waste areas for all 24 centers in the two districts where we work.
My temporary hole at the Doubadene health center was constructed in a day, and, on a second visit a couple weeks later, shows constant use. There is a path worn to the edge of the pit, and medical waste is definitely being gathered there. That's step one, but an open pit full of examination gloves and used Malaria tests is not an ideal state of sanitation. We'll have a few more holes to dig to create the standard waste area with simple waste volume reducer, ash pit, and organic waste pit (otherwise known as a placenta pit).
Back on the home front, at the district hospital, we have cleaned out six pits in the existing waste area in anticipation of the rehabilitation. The waste went to the local landfill, into another pit that was dug for the final interment of the medical waste. We carefully load the needle-studded ashes into the pit, backfill it with loose earth, and seal it with concrete. The pits at the hospital are clear and ready for repurposing, the medical waste is safely sealed away, and all of our holes are closed up.
Time to dig some more. There are a couple health centers that need pit latrines constructed...