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Health Care Initiatives That Help Both Patients and the Planet

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The phrase “global health” can interchangeably refer to the health of our planet’s people or the health of our planet itself. But thought leaders designing the health care facilities of tomorrow have begun asking a provocative question: What if those two interchangeable concepts are mutually inclusive? In other words, can we design health care facilities that treat patients and also help sustain and improve our environment?

The concept of green trends in health care facility designs is born more from necessity than ambition. Many developing nations lack basic infrastructure like running water, refrigeration, electricity and transportation to deliver reliable health care — especially in rural areas. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports nearly 40 percent of hospitals and clinics in developing countries have no source of water. More than one-third of those facilities have no place for staff or patients to wash with soap. The lack of basic hygiene condemns many patients, especially newborns, to preventable deaths. These nations see green solutions as a way to bypass traditional infrastructure. In 2015, for the first time, developing countries like India, China and Mexico outspent developed nations on renewable energy projects. The potential impact on health care is significant.

Many of these health care facilities are turning to alternative energy devices to improve health care. For example, a solar-powered autoclave can sterilize medical equipment in rural areas that lack electricity. For developing nations, where one in five wounds suffers from infection, the device can save lives without requiring a health care facility to be connected to an electrical grid. Developing nations are also harnessing solar technology to power blood pressure monitors and vaccine refrigerators. With more than 1.2 billion people (roughly 17 percent of the world’s population) living without electricity, and many more with unreliable power, incorporating these types of solar-powered devices in developing countries will save lives without putting an additional burden on our natural resources.

While green technology can help expand access to health care in developing countries, it can also help reduce those nations’ environmental burden. China produces more greenhouse gases than any other country. In 2010, air pollution in China contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths. Meanwhile, Brazil and India are the fifth and eighth largest polluters respectively and both are expected to climb in the rankings with growing manufacturing sectors. Green designs in health care can help reduce both the environmental burden and the human health impact of that burden.

Hospitals often produce more waste and use more resources than similarly sized commercial businesses. But thoughtful design can make a difference. According to energy experts, small and mid-sized health clinics can achieve lifetime fuel savings of 75 to 80 percent by employing hybrid solar-diesel energy systems. Combined heat and power (CHP) systems, which are increasing in popularity at health care facilities in the United States and Europe, are also starting to gain notice in India and Brazil. CHPs produce low CO2 emissions and capture heat that is normally wasted for building use.

In addition, WHO has identified Seven Elements of a Climate-Friendly Hospital that can serve as a guide for developing nations. By focusing on energy efficiency, green building design, alternative energy generation, transportation, food, waste, and water, developing nations can create health care facilities that help heal the planet and its people.

Photo Credit: Michael Coté via Flickr

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Thank Julie for the Post!

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