The concern over the large amount of medical waste produced could be leading some hospitals to reuse some medical devices, such as needles and syringes, that should only be used once and then disposed of. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched the One and Only Campaign which is meant to reduce the number of improperly reused medical devices, reducing risk of the spread of disease.
It has been estimated that over 100,000 Americans have been exposed to infections such as hepatitis and HIV over the past decade. These exposures came from unsafe injections resulting from reused needles or vials of medicine that have been dipped into multiple times. The exposures have resulted in several well-publicized outbreaks. One such outbreak was of hepatitis C which spread from a dialysis center in New Jersey.
However, there still remains the concern about the large amount of medical waste produced each day. Groups who are concerned about this issue believe that as much medical equipment as possible should be recycled, while maintaining patient safety, in an effort to reduce the number landfills with medical waste. One safe method of recycling medical equipment is recycling by re-sterilization.
There have been no outbreaks reported related to properly sterilized recycled medical equipment. Equipment that is very expensive is sterilized after every use through carefully prescribed, heavily regulated steps. Medical-waste recyclers are also looking to recycle other less expensive equipment. However since this equipment is less expensive, if it is not possible to sterilize then it can be thrown out. The methods to sterilize the items that are currently sterilized is adequate enough to guarantee sterility. However, this guarantee will have to extend to other items in the future as they are added to the list of items that are regularly sterilized.
The two initiatives of the One and Only Campaign and the green campaign will likely continue to clash. Both are trying to protect the public either by preventing dangerous infection or protecting the environment. If a hospital chooses to reuse medical equipment the absolute goal should be to keep patients safe and healthy. Equipment that is not adequately sterilized can cause serious harm to patients who can then pursue a medical malpractice claim.
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