As the impact of human-caused pollution grows, the public health spotlight is slowly but steadily shifting to the importance of the health of our planet.
The frequent occurrence of floods, wildfires and droughts brings to light a core truth.
What is often overlooked, however, is that efforts to improve human health can lead to environmental degradation, which can ultimately compromise health. It’s more cyclical than most of us realize.
Healthcare Sector Waste
The healthcare sector, including public health systems, hospitals, primary health services and pharmaceutical companies, is a major source of hazardous emissions and waste.
Globally, 4.4% of greenhouse gases can be attributed to this sector, with hospitals being the most energy-intensive and wasteful.
In the United States, the healthcare sector accounts for an estimated 8.5% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The sector in other developed countries, such as Canada and Japan, is relatively small but still leaves a significant carbon footprint, accounting for about 4.6% of the national total.
And Australia is no more.
Our healthcare system produces about 7% of the country’s total carbon footprint. This is equivalent to emissions from the construction of half the number of homes, buildings, oil rigs, roads, pipelines, dams and railroads nationwide.
Hospitals account for about half of this 7%.
Where do these emissions come from?
A large portion of the carbon footprint can come from energy use across the healthcare sector. Electricity generation in healthcare facilities for heating, cooling, ventilation, and hot water supply all require significant energy.
Globally, it is estimated that the energy used to cool hospitals each year produces the same amount of emissions as 110 coal-fired power plants. However, energy consumption along the supply chain accounts for the majority of carbon emissions.
The production, distribution, consumption and disposal of products and services make up an estimated 60-70% of the healthcare sector’s global footprint.
Billions of dollars worth of medicines are wasted each year. This is because they are packaged in vials that are larger than needed for a single patient, leading to unnecessary waste.
Producing replacements for disposable items such as surgical instruments, blood pressure cuffs and bed linens creates a large amount of waste. The widespread incineration of these wastes can also release air pollutants if performed improperly.
With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumption of disposable items has become an even greater concern as healthcare workers wear disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce the risk of infection.
An estimated 87,000 tons of PPE and 144,000 tons of additional vaccine waste (including syringes and needles) were generated in the first 20 months of the global COVID-19 response, rethinking how medical waste is managed The urgent need for health care systems was emphasized. .
Importance of the green healthcare sector
Those working in the health care sector can view climate change as outside their scope of responsibility.When they are busy saving lives and providing treatment, greenhouse gas emissions are most of their concern. not.
Climate change is seen as a ‘future problem’ as its consequences are perceived to be gradual compared to other pressing health concerns such as infectious diseases and complications arising from chronic health conditions. I sometimes feel
However, this short-sightedness can be detrimental to your health in the long run.
Greenhouse gas emissions and resulting global warming cause and exacerbate a range of health conditions. High concentrations of particulate matter in the air can increase the risk of respiratory illness. Malnutrition may result from crop yield disruption and dietary diversity due to rising temperatures.
An increase in disease prevalence can lead to an increase in the need for health care, which creates more emissions and damage to the environment.
And the vicious circle is strengthened.
The goal of the healthcare sector is to maintain and improve individual and collective health. The sector must therefore be at the forefront of the fight against climate change.
Delaying is betraying the medical sector’s efforts to help and heal.
What can you do?
From small changes at the facility level to major changes at the multi-sector level, there are healthcare options you can take now to reduce your sector’s environmental impact.
For example, by choosing to use propofol instead of desflurane as an anesthetic, hospitals eliminate the release of toxic gases that have the greatest impact on climate change among all commonly used anesthetics. I can do it.
Desflurane remains in the atmosphere for 10 years, and one hour of desflurane use has a greenhouse gas impact equivalent to driving 350 kilometers.
The sector will also need to make changes upstream in the supply chain to significantly reduce emissions. Health systems have tremendous purchasing power that can be leveraged to drive sustainability transitions in other sectors.
By requiring suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint and adopt more sustainable practices, the healthcare sector can influence the bottom line of their suppliers and encourage the green transition.
Health co-benefits should be a focus of sustainability efforts as they provide powerful incentives for change. Climate change mitigation policies can benefit both the environment and people’s health.
For example, when a local hospital shifts its food system to locally grown fresh, it not only helps the environment by reducing the carbon footprint associated with transportation, but it also improves the health of staff, patients and visitors altogether. can also do. Additional cost.
The health sector must act quickly to combat the greatest threat to human health: climate change.
Climate change cannot be wiped out as a future consideration, so now is the time to implement policies and designs that lead to real improvement.