A Public Health Crisis
Today, roughly a quarter of all human disease and death in the world can be attributed to what the World Health Organization (WHO) broadly defines as environmental factors. These include unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation and hygiene, indoor and outdoor air pollution, workplace hazards, industrial accidents, automobile accidents, climate change, poor land use practices and poor natural resource management.
The contribution of environmental factors to the burden of disease will be magnified and increased with the growing health-related impacts of climate change. These include shifting patterns of disease, water and food insecurity, vulnerable shelter and human settlements, extreme climate events, heat related illness and population migration.
The Role of the Health Sector
The health sector’s mandate is to prevent and cure disease. Yet the delivery of health care services – most notably in hospitals – often inadvertently contributes to the problem.
The health sector has a key role to play in reducing its own ecological footprint, while promoting public environmental health.
Hospitals generate significant environmental health impacts both upstream and downstream from service delivery, through the natural resources and products they consume, as well as through the waste they generate.
Yet hospitals and health systems everywhere have the potential to promote sustainability, greater health equity and environmental health through investing in healthier buildings, purchasing green, and implementing sustainable operations.
Indeed, hospitals and health care workers can be leading promoters of environmental health, by modelling environmentally sustainable, economically sound practices for the broader society and global community.