Editorial by Luqman Yesufu, groundWork | Imagine you were playing football out on the field and you mistakenly stepped on a syringe that was improperly disposed of by a hospital just down the road from where you live. Would you blame it on your carelessness or would you blame the hospital for improperly disposing of their needles?

As it stands, many people might blame themselves for not wearing proper football boots, while others will actually blame the hospital for this environmental hazard. The reality is that the hospitals are part of the environment or community and should be as environmentally responsible as any other industry in the environment. If this is the case, then what really makes this situation sad is that the needle stick injury was caused by an institution whose mandate is to “first do no harm”.

As recently as May this year, the eThekwini municipality in KwaZulu-Natal province reported that medical waste, which included expired pills and condoms, where discovered on one of Durban’s north beaches. This resulted in the complete closure of four beaches for two weeks, because the municipality was not sure of the extent of medical waste pollution. Many people have blamed the waste company responsible for medical waste disposal, but if we apply the “proximity principle” in the Waste Act, which recommends that “treatment and disposal of hazardous waste takes place at the closest possible location to its source to minimize the risks involved in its transport”, then both the hospital and the waste company should share the blame.

groundWork, through the Global Green and Healthy Hospital (GGHH) initiative, has been working with health care leaders and hospitals for the past six years on the issues of sustainable waste management strategies that will promote environmental health in both the hospital and the environment. In this regard, by properly sorting and reducing waste, hospitals can achieve two things: they can avoid the disposal cost and reduce the environmental hazards of the waste, thereby being more environmentally responsible.

The decision by the Department of Health in KwaZulu-Natal to join the Global Green and Healthy Hospital is a timely boost and a step in the right direction. Six hospitals in the province of KwaZulu-Natal – Edendale, Ngwelezana, Inkosi Albert Luthuli, Port Shepstone, King Edward and Grey – have all pledged to promote public health by continuously reducing their environmental impact and ultimately eliminating their contribution to the burden of disease. These hospitals have each taken up that leadership role of transforming their own institutions to become advocates for policies and practices that promote environmental health, while also saving scarce resources. We should consider this a major positive step, especially as the World Health Organization (WHO) reported recently that one quarter of all deaths and of the total disease burden can be attributed to the environment.

To further support these hospitals groundWork, together with our global partner Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), organized a GGHH workshop for the sustainability coordinators from these six hospitals. These coordinators have been delegated by the CEOs of each hospital to be the focal person for initiation and implementation of the green goals in the hospital. The workshop was aimed at assisting these coordinators with the development of a sustainability strategy for implementing their GGHH goals, sharing the various resources available for them on the GGHH internet platform and also to outline their responsibilities in terms of case studies, webinar attendance and baseline assessments.

What stood out for me in this workshop was the realization that there was a dire need for leadership at all levels to ensure sustainability and environmental health in a hospital. The CEO of Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital Dr Thandeka Khanyile was very grateful for the opportunity for her hospital to be part of this initiative, highlighting the fact that “communication is key” in her quest to ensure that the hospital is a beacon of hope for sustainability practices. She stressed the need to use all information technology infrastructure in the hospital – such as screen savers, videos on water and electricity efficiency saving tips on signage – to create awareness of the hospital’s efforts towards achieving sustainability. On the energy goal, Dr. Khanyile vowed to control energy usage especially in hospital management building – they are installing an automated shutting down system – which will ensure that electricity supply to the management building is shut down at the close of the business day.

Furthermore, all the hospitals present at this workshop recognized the need for staff and patient buy-in for the GGHH Initiative. What was constant in all their strategies was the formation of a task team or green committee that will involve members from all departments and will help promote and strengthen GGHH efforts in their respective hospitals. It was also worth noting that Edendale hospital was already engaged in promoting environmental health in its communities through the planting of food gardens. Narisha Gobind, who is the social service manager and sustainability coordinator for GGHH at Edendale Hospital, has completely transformed the idea of primary health care. By connecting local needs with environmental action she has been able to foster community environmental health while at the same time ensuring that her patients are able to feed and sustain themselves.

Overall, it was a successful workshop and we hope that, with these hospitals leading the way for sustainable environmental health practices in the province, communities can also learn and emulate these practices, thereby ensuring a healthy community. It is important that these hospitals continue to lay the foundation for improved public health and environmental sustainability so that this can be replicated by other hospitals and health systems in the country.

Article by Luqman Yesufu, GGHH Campaign Manager, Membership Outreach and Engagement in Africa

Source: groundWork (page 5)