A call for greener, healthier hospitals

This is a public service announcement from Health Care Without Harm: 

MANILA, Philippines – Health care practitioners worldwide made a pledge to “First, do no harm,” as articulated in the millennia-old Hippocratic Oath. But while their primary responsibility is to heal, hospitals and health care facilities contribute to many environmental problems. With the growing threat of environmental issues to human health, health care practitioners are taking a firmer stand in leading the way towards helping heal the planet. 

The international coalition Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) celebrates World Environment Day by urging the health sector to adopt environmentally sound practices through its campaigns on sustainable energy, medical waste management, and green and healthy hospitals.

The shift

HCWH’s Healthy Energy Initiative works with global health leaders for a clean energy future  by educating the public on the negative effects of fossil fuel-based energy. In the Philippines, The Initiative visits communities to investigate the effects of coal and to push for the promotion of sustainable sources of energy such as solar and wind.

It is very clear in global evidence that the energy sources that emit the greatest volume of greenhouse gases are the same ones that have the biggest negative impact on health and they are coal, petroleum, and other fossil fuels,said Dr Renzo Guinto, HCWH Asias Campaigner for the Healthy Energy Initiative. 

Having a health facility powered by renewable energy is not impossible. That is indeed 'health care without harm’ not harming the planet through healthy energy choices,” he added.

Greener, healthier hospitals

From using more sustainable forms of energy to recycling their waste, more and more hospitals in the Philippines are now taking significant steps to reduce their environmental footprint. Through its Global Green and Healthy Hospitals campaign, HCWH has been helping these hospitals effectively carry out greener and healthier solutions. 

Ever since the signing into law of the Clean Air Act of 1999 which bans the use of incinerators as a means to dispose of waste, many hospitals across countries have adopted better and more efficient means of managing their wastes.

At the Maria Reyna-Xavier University Hospital in Cagayan de Oro City, everyone from the management to the staff level, contribute to minimizing the hospital’s waste through proper segregation, banning of non-recyclable materials, and replacing single-use disposable items. Here, the hospital staff at the dietary department are required to bring their own spoons, forks, and water containers for their use in their hospital canteen. 

By practicing the strict segregation of infectious and non-infectious linens, the hospital is able to reduce chemical usage which save the facility thousands of pesos in electricity and bleach purchase costs.

Traditional toxic disinfectants used to clean hospitals can expose health care workers to chemicals that have adverse health effects. At the St Paul Hospital in Tuguegarao, instead of using toxic chemical  disinfectants, the housekeeping department uses vinegar and baking soda as their main cleaning agents. The staff prepares baking soda as polish for stainless steel found mostly in door panels and handles, among others, in the different hospital wards. The hospital has found this cleaning system more cost-effective, efficient, and safer for the hospital staff as well as the environment. 

At the Philippine Heart Center, the number of patients continues to grow dramatically each year and so does the increase in water consumption and wastewater production.  Seeing the importance of minimizing their impact on the city’s water supply and updating its own facilities to support the hospital’s mission of environmental stewardship, hospital engineers have developed a system to treat and disinfect waste water and use it to irrigate hospital grounds. Water from the sewage treatment plant is used to flush the hospital toilets and water the hospital ornamental gardens. 

No to incineration

Incineration of biomedical wastes produces dioxins and furans that, when released to the atmosphere, will cause enormous public health impact such as impairment of the immune, nervous, endocrine, and reproductive systems, among others.

Alternative non-burn technologies such as autoclaves are proven to be safer and cheaper alternatives to burning medical wastes. 

Together with other environmental groups, HCWH is appealing to lawmakers and local governments to uphold the Clean Air Act and retain the ban on incineration. There is a proposal in Congress to amend the section on incineration to quickly facilitate the disposal of wastes by local government units.

“Many of our hospitals have proven that through efficient implementation of waste management, we do not have to resort to harmful processes to reduce our wastes,” explained HCWH Asia’s Director Merci Ferrer.

“Incineration undermines the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act or Republic Act No. 9003 which advances environmentally sound solutions to our waste problem. It not only harms our environment but also exposes the public to serious health threats.” — Rappler.com

The best environmental practices of hospitals across the country have been documented by HCWH in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme’s Global Environmental Facility. It can be accessed here. 

Health Care Without Harm is an international coalition of 443 organizations in 52 countries working to transform the health care sector so it is no longer a source of harm to people and the environment. To learn more, visit their website here.