Building climate resilient and environmentally sustainable healthcare to ensure ‘Right to health for all’

On World Health Day 2024, Dr Dhrubaa Ghosh, Partner, Management Consulting, BDO India explains why building an environmentally sustainable healthcare is important for ‘Right to health for all’ 

India is prone to a multitude of extreme weather events, including cyclones, floods, droughts, and heatwaves, which are becoming more frequent and intense due to climate change. These can damage healthcare infrastructure, disrupt supply chains, and overwhelm healthcare systems with increased demand for emergency medical services. During such events, it is important for healthcare facilities (HCFs) to remain operational and provide the continuum of care. The looming threat continues to disrupt the right to health as India has a diverse geography with a high population density, but inadequate HCFs. This disrupts the critical continuum of care within facilities and healthcare’s ability to uphold the right to health.

The consequences of climate hazards 

Extreme weather events can disrupt the entire chain of health service delivery. Floods can damage infrastructure and contaminate water supplies, hindering access to basic services. Heatwaves can overwhelm cooling systems jeopardising medication storage and patient comfort. Power outages can cripple life-saving equipment and communication networks, hindering patient care and communication with specialists and referral centres.

Climate change not only disrupts health services delivery but also exacerbates existing health issues. Heat stress can worsen cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and trigger strokes while disrupted agricultural patterns can lead to malnutrition and weaken immune systems, making populations more susceptible to infectious diseases and increasing their severity. Additionally, warmer temperatures and excessive precipitation contribute to an increased prevalence of vector-borne diseases like malaria, chikungunya and dengue fever, while floods can increase waterborne infections in the affected area.

Building resilience: four pillars of green and clean 

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) ‘guidance for climate resilient environmentally sustainable healthcare facilities’ provides an aspirational framework for HCFs. This framework can help these facilities evolve into model institutions with robust climate resilience and low-carbon operations. India’s HCFs can leverage this framework with the help of the following:

  1. Climate-resilient WASH systems: Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) are the cornerstones of infection prevention and control in any healthcare setting. However, climate change can disrupt safe water availability, healthcare waste management and wastewater treatment.

By implementing rainwater harvesting systems, greywater recycling for non-potable purposes, and drought-resistant landscaping, a reliable water supply can be ensured. Investing in climate-resilient sanitation infrastructure like composting toilets or bio-digesters can ensure continued waste management during floods or power outages.

  1. Climate-smart workforce: A skilled and knowledgeable workforce is crucial for navigating climate challenges. Capacity-building programmes should equip staff with the skills to be ready for disaster management, respond to climate-sensitive illnesses, and promote climate-resilient practices within the facility.

This can be achieved through training programmes covering topics like disaster preparedness, emergency response protocols for heatwaves or floods, and adapting clinical practices to manage climate-sensitive health issues like heatstroke and vector-borne diseases. Additionally, incorporating climate change into medical curricula can ensure future healthcare professionals are equipped to address these challenges.

Adopting technologies like integrating early warning systems into the management information systems of HCFs for sending alerts on climate hazard forecasts can help the facilities to be prepared in the event of a hazard.

  1. Clean energy sources: Overdependence on fossil fuels contributes to climate change and creates vulnerability to power outages during disasters. Transitioning to clean energy sources is a win-win.

Reducing reliance on the grid through the installation of solar panels and wind turbines and exploring energy-efficient lighting and appliances can further minimise energy consumption. Additionally, exploring backup power sources like solar-powered generators can ensure uninterrupted electricity supply during outages, especially through the adoption of Decentralised Renewable Energy. 

  1. Robust infrastructure: Climate-resilient infrastructure protects healthcare facilities from the physical impacts of disasters which can disrupt services and compromise patient safety.

Strengthening buildings to withstand floods, earthquakes, and high winds is crucial. Investing in heat-resistant roofing materials and cooling systems can improve thermal comfort during heatwaves. Infrastructure design should include optimising building orientation for natural lighting and ventilation, using sustainable materials in construction. The use of non-toxic paints in healthcare facilities can ensure the health safety of patients and caregivers.

  1. Use of green medical technologies: The use of green and clean medical technologies offers innovative solutions for reducing the environmental footprint of health service delivery by adopting affordable energy-efficient approaches.

HCFs can invest in energy-efficient medical equipment and devices, such as LED surgical lights, energy-efficient imaging systems, and low-power medical devices. These technologies not only reduce energy consumption but also lower operational costs over time.

Building climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable HCFs is not only about adapting to a changing present but also building a healthy future for communities. By adopting the WHO’s framework and focusing on the aforementioned five core areas, Indian HCFs can become bastions of resilience. These changes ensure uninterrupted care during emergencies as well as demonstrate a commitment to environmental stewardship. A future where healthcare facilities become sanctuaries for communities facing climate’s fury, while simultaneously minimising their environmental impact, is a future worth building together towards the right to health for all.


environment friendlyright to healthsustainability in healthcareWorld Health Day 2024
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