Why we need to green health care facilities

If healthcare was considered a country, it would be the fifth largest polluter on earth. To make a serious impact on climate change targets, we need to green our health systems and facilities.

Greening health care facilities builds their resilience to repeated climate-related threats and minimises their generation of environmental and climate related harm.

biological waste, red biohazard garbage bagIn a health care setting, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) has an important role to play. Health care waste management, cleaning, water and sanitation services are key contributors to climate harm and necessary for resilience, yet WASH is often neglected in health care facility design, management and processes. To clean our health systems and build resilient facilities, we need to consider our approach to our use of chemicals, energy, water, sanitation and wastewater, health care waste, food and air quality.

The limited data available on health care waste management and cleaning practices, shows the services are commonly lacking, especially in least developed countries. This results in harmful chemicals entering our waterways and dangerous medical waste in landfill.

According to recent data from WHO and UNICEF, 24% of health care facilities have no basic water services and 10% have no sanitation services. These figures are alarming and show the urgent need for greening health care facilities. Increasing investment and attention to WASH in health care facilities has shown the impact of fostering green and resilient technologies and infrastructure development. WHO has outlined how supporting the greening of waste and cleaning systems, considering water use and safely managed sanitation services at health care facilities as they are developed can reduce emissions and environmental harm while improving resilience.

For the sake of our planet, and for the safety of our health care, we need to seize the opportunity presented by a global momentum on WASH in health care facilities. A green and resilient approach addresses both the climate and WASH crisis.

It’s time to scaleup green technologies and sustainable systems supporting health care facilities.

Alison Macintyre is a Technical Adviser at the Nossal Institute. She has strong development practitioner skills in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and gender and inclusion, and a strong understanding of health systems and application of public health approaches. Read more

Read more in Nossal Institute's series discussing developments in the area of health and climate change.

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Alison Macintyre