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Saudi Arabia Eyes Korea's Medical Waste Management System

 Saudi Arabia's environmental minister hopes to improve his country's medical waste management through cooperation with Korea.

Minister Abdulaziz bin Omar Al Jasser, who was on a weeklong tour of Korea, visited the Korea Environmental Corp. (KEC) on Thursday, a day after he signed an agreement with his counterpart, Yoon Seong-kyu, on medical waste management cooperation. He and his delegation return home Saturday.

"We've got a large quantity of medical waste," Al Jasser, minister for meteorology and environment, said. "There are companies (to treat it), but it is reaching maximum capacity. We're interested in getting technologies from Korea."

Saudi Arabia sterilizes medical waste with pressure and heat before burying it. In Korea, all medical waste is incinerated. Air pollutants are generated during the process, including dioxin and nitrogen, and the incineration facilities filter them before release.

"If the filtering can meet Saudi's air quality regulation on dioxin, we will go ahead with incineration," the minister said.

The entire treatment process is strictly monitored by the government using the radio frequency identification (RFID) system.

All 74,000 medical clinics, 13 incineration facilities and 164 companies involved in the management are registered with the system, and the authorities can monitor each waste treatment process, from collection to incineration.

"The system is effective as wastes from even all small-sized neighborhood clinics are controlled," Lee Si-jin, the KEC chairman, said. Last year, 156,000 tons of medical waste was incinerated.

Medical waste management gained public attention during the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak here in May. There was concern over waste management from patients despite the law requiring extra care in handling infectious disease waste. Saudi Arabia suffered its first outbreak of MERS in 2012 and another huge outbreak this year.