Environmentally-sustainable hospitals and their role in climate action (WHO/EMRO event)

Date:  22 June 2023

On 22 June 2023, the Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO/EMRO) held a discussion on climate change and its impact on health, in collaboration with the Geneva Sustainability Centre.

Impact of climate change on the Eastern Mediterranean region

WHO/EMRO supports a varied socio-economic landscape, with a population of 717 million people across 22 countries. Each year, it is estimated that 1 million people prematurely lose their lives because of climate change, with air pollution linked to carbon emissions contributing to 56% of the health risks. The effects of climate change in the region are strongly felt, from an elevated temperature to droughts and floods. The region experiences temperature rises higher than the global average, surpassing the limits set in the Paris Agreement. This rise in temperature, coupled with events like floods, droughts, and loss of biodiversity, has significant consequences. Agriculture is impacted, leading to food and water insecurity. Temperature is predicted to increase by 4.3 to 6.1 degrees in the region in the next 70 years, with 49–95% of the year in hot temperature, affecting food and water security. This change in temperature also affects healthcare delivery and patient’s needs. These changes contribute to higher mortality and morbidity rates.

Health equity

Addressing health equity is a crucial aspect of embedding sustainability into healthcare delivery. Speakers from across the region noted that for the first time, healthcare workers are taking the lead in discussing and addressing climate change and improving resilience in healthcare. Recent events such as the earthquake across Syria and Turkey, droughts across northern Africa, and devasting floods in Somalia have demonstrated the need for strengthening our healthcare systems and healthcare delivery.  Improving healthcare should include an equitable response to climate change and supporting the overall health of the population. While countries with more resources have a responsibility to decarbonize healthcare delivery at a faster pace, lower and lower-middle income countries should work towards developing universal health coverage (UHC) in an environmentally friendly manner. By prioritizing sustainability, healthcare systems can contribute to reducing health disparities and promoting equal access to healthcare services.

Sustainability in clinical practice

Embedding sustainability as part of healthcare delivery involves various measures. Hospitals can play a significant role in reducing their carbon footprint through the adoption of greener practices. Responding to climate change should be done at every level of a hospital, including in clinical practice considering the impact of prescribed medicine on carbon emissions, such as anaesthetic gases that are 32,000 times more detrimental to the environment than CO2. Embracing innovations, like telemedicine, can promote low-carbon models of care while also increasing accessibility to healthcare services. The adoption of new regulations and practices is necessary to ensure that hospitals operate in a sustainable and environmentally conscious way for improved health outcomes for everyone, everywhere.

Implementation

Looking ahead to the next steps and to COP28 in November 2023, we have the opportunity to highlight and promote sustainable healthcare practices. Presenting more examples of green hospitals and sustainable healthcare at COP28 is crucial. WHO encourages every country in the EMRO region to have at least one sustainable hospital per country, resulting in 22 models by the end of the following year. COP28 will feature a dedicated health day for the first time ever, providing a platform to highlight progress, encourage collaboration, and share case studies. It is important to prioritize long-term investments and solutions over short-term fixes in the healthcare sector. Taking stock at COP28 involves assessing progress, learning from experiences, and leveraging collective knowledge to continue improving sustainability in healthcare systems.

To find out more about how the Geneva Sustainability Centre can support your hospital’s transition to net-zero, resilient, and sustainable healthcare. Join us at the 2023 World Hospital Congress in Lisbon, Portugal.

Written by:

Katherine Bennett

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