The Unseen Danger: How COVID-19 Reveals Indonesia’s Medical Waste Problem

Indonesia has been widely criticized for its slow response to the pandemic that reached more than 26,000 cases and more than 1,600 deaths—and still counting—as of late May. The government refused to impose lockdowns, choosing to implement a vague policy called large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) instead.

The pandemic is exposing how Indonesia's health care system is fragile. Indonesia has only one doctor per 2,500 people and one hospital bed for 1,000 people according to WHO. Yet it has also created a new problem: medical waste.

According to the Health Ministry report in November 2019, there are 2,852 hospitals in the country that produced 296 tons of medical waste per day. During the pandemic, there is an increase of 30 percent of medical waste or 382 tons per day across Indonesia, according to the Health Ministry.

Only 96 hospitals have their own incinerators to get rid of the waste. The rest would rely on third-party waste management companies, which often operate without accountability and transparency.

One company PT. Tenang Jaya and its subsidiaries PT Putra Restu Ibu Abadi that usually hired to handle medical waste across Java, have been repeatedly found of practicing waste dumping without proper treatment that threatened the livelihood of residents in West and East Java.

Indonesia’s Steady Stream of Medical Waste

Indonesia’s poor waste management and open-dumping systems are not only harmful to the environment, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, improperly disposed of medical waste poses a great danger to human health. It could jeopardize efforts to flatten the curve.