06 Apr World Health Day 2022 – a chance to reflect on holistic healthcare
7th April marks World Health Day 2022. This annual event, promoted by the World Health Organisation, draws attention to a specific health topic of concern to people all over the world. It also commemorates the launch of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 7th April 1948.
2022’s World Health Day aims to focus global attention on urgent actions needed to keep humans and the planet healthy and foster a movement to create societies focused on well-being. In its own words, ‘WHO estimates that more than 13 million deaths around the world each year are due to avoidable environmental causes. This includes the climate crisis which is the single biggest health threat facing humanity. The climate crisis is also a health crisis’.
An industry doing the right thing for patients
The WHO correctly points out that the impact of burning fossil fuels on clear air and the negative effects of the growth of plastics in the food chain both pose significant healthcare threats to humans. Furthermore, healthcare can also be impacted by increases in extreme weather caused by climate change. In short, a sick planet can cause significant illness to its population, meaning we all have a responsibility to recognise the impact of climate change is wider than just the economy.
It is also true to recognise that healthcare is an intensive industry that can have negative impacts on the wider environment. Critical healthcare is extremely labour intensive and may require large volumes of materials that cannot be reused and – in many cases – need to be destroyed to avoid contamination. The medicines that help to keep vulnerable people alive can have a negative effect on communities close to pharmaceutical manufacturing plants because of local contamination of food and water supplies. Discharging antibiotics into the environment can lead to antibiotic resistance that makes medical conditions harder to treat. As the parameters of what is possible with surgery grow wider, there can be a negative environmental impact. For example, key organ transplantation helps keep people alive, but may require air transportation of critical organs or patients – which is a carbon intensive activity.
The impact of wellbeing on healthcare
Like many industries, there is a trade off in healthcare between providing the best possible care to humans and having the least possible impact on the environment. However, everyone has a role to play in minimising this impact. By promoting lifelong wellbeing – encouraging people to take a proactive approach to their own healthcare across their entire lives – healthcare systems can minimise the demands of a population on a healthcare system. This will not only reduce the environmental impact but also save cost and ensure resources (both financial and environmental) are focussed where they are most needed.
A lifelong approach to wellbeing could also have positive environmental outcomes. By walking more people can improve their health and reduce reliance on vehicles that consume fossil fuels. Encouraging people to consume more healthy foods also typically has a positive environmental impact – such as less packaging.
World Health Day is an important opportunity to celebrate those dedicated people that work in healthcare systems and to recognise the correlation between the planet and human wellbeing. However, it should also be an opportunity to offer people ways to contribute to their own wellbeing as well as doing what they can to reduce their environmental impact.