The intersection of Public Health and Sustainability: Why it Matters Now More Than Ever

Climate change is the worst crisis humanity is currently facing. The evidence is clear with the stark differences in climate-related incidents across the globe.

Today’s health businesses face several complex challenges, ranging from stakeholder expectations to regulatory compliance. Amid these, sustainable development often takes a backseat. Sustainability may seem like a buzzword, used liberally with very little credibility. However, the concept is far more nuanced and important where public health is concerned. It is the cornerstone of success to build resilience and protect the planet.

Climate change is the worst crisis humanity is currently facing. The evidence is clear with the stark differences in climate-related incidents across the globe. While Dubai received torrential rainfall, causing flash floods, people across various parts of Asia are grappling with heatwaves, leading to severe water shortages, with poorer communities being the worst affected. The Earth is boiling, quite literally, and resources have been stretched to the limit as the population grows, foreshadowing devastating consequences for future generations. Public health, in particular, is reeling from this crisis as the prevalence of communicable and non-communicable diseases grows at a startling rate. Between 2000 and 2019, almost 489,000 people died each year due to heat-related illnesses, with 45% in Asia and 36% in Europe.[1] Rising temperatures are responsible for not just public health emergencies, they can affect health services. Public health is the first line of defense during a crisis of this magnitude, and as systems across the globe struggle to cope, the outlook seems bleak.

Disease prevention, treatment, accessibility, equity, and protection of the environment are all essential facets of health that aim to enhance the well-being of the public. The main goal of sustainability is to meet the needs of the current generation without compromising the needs of future generations. The crux of both these concepts is the adoption of holistic practices that provide long-term welfare over short-term respite. Hence, it is crucial to understand how health and sustainability go hand-in-hand to help humanity weather the current crisis.

Making health sustainable

The health sector is responsible for between 4.4% and 5.2% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.[2] This creates a paradoxical situation wherein the systems created to help can harm the well-being of the public. Health services comprise energy-intensive activities, from maintaining hospitals to creating life-saving medicines. Reducing the carbon footprint would be the first step towards making health sustainable. The solutions to this problem boil down to three categories — switching to non-fossil energy, storing energy, and conserving energy. Rather than solely depending on non-renewable sources of energy, the sector must start adopting renewable sources such as wind or solar energy. This helps build resilience to adverse climate-related events and can provide a positive socioeconomic impact.

A critical aspect of health that is often overlooked is the significance of preventive care. Countries that are a part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development spend less than 3% on preventive care.[3] Prevention is important in reducing the overuse of resources in health, which can result in reducing the carbon footprint. Several short and long-term sustainability goals can be achieved through primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention. A robust global vaccination programme must be implemented to decrease resource consumption. Furthermore, encouraging the public to adopt a healthy lifestyle empowers them to take an active role in enhancing their well-being.

Public health is often highly fragmented as patients may have to go to several points along the treatment pathway. Improving access to early diagnosis and providing one-stop solutions can make this process easier and more sustainable. Policymakers and other stakeholders can drive systemic change by encouraging people to adopt preventive measures to reduce the disease burden and health consumption.

There are several indirect ways in which health can become more sustainable. For instance, encouraging the adoption of telemedicine in cases where the patient does not need to be physically present. Governments must create policies that encourage the sustainable procurement of ingredients for medicines, using greener methods of transportation, embracing a circular economy, and employing safe waste disposal methods.

Public health and sustainability have a symbiotic relationship that requires our utmost attention. COVID-19 may not be the last health crisis we witness in our lifetimes. This is especially true due to climate change, which can exacerbate more than half of the known human pathogenic diseases.[4] As health communicators our task is twofold — drawing attention to the brewing health crisis while shedding light on climate change and its implications. The future hinges on sustainability and integrating it into the health system while not compromising on quality. The transition needs to start now.






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Aman Gupta
Aman Gupta
Aman Gupta is a global communications leader with a passion for health. He has led campaigns focused on key health issues, including NCDs, HIV/AIDS, Immunizations, Health Financing, and empowering patients’ voices across Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. He founded SPAG, an award-winning global communications and advocacy agency that became part of FINN Partners in 2022. He is Managing Partner- Health Practice- Asia at FINN Partners, based in India. He has been recognized as one of the top 25 innovators in Asia-Pacific by Provoke media and one of the top 15 people to watch out for in 2023. He also was part of the first TED Fellows in 2003, recognized for his work in public health. He supports various not-for-profit organizations, including PFCD (Partnership to fight chronic Disease) and TPAG (Thalassemia Patients Advocacy Group).
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