Representatives of more than 5000 healthcare institutions and several thousand healthcare professionals around the country that form the Health and Environment Leadership Platform (HELP) released a joint statement today calling for concerted action to reduce air pollution in India. The statement called on, “All relevant stakeholders to take immediate and sustainable action to improve India’s air quality and ameliorate its impacts on health”. The statement also noted that, “If India is to realize the value of its demographic dividend, it will need to tackle the growing menace of air pollution, a task in which the health sector stands ready to assist”.
The Health and Environment Leadership Platform was also formally launched today by the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) in partnership with Health Care Without Harm (HCWH). The platform aims to bring together helath sector leaders to voice their concern and show leadership on the impact of environmental risk factors for ill health. Recognising that environmental degradation threatens to slow or reverse the progress the public health community has made against many diseases in a developing country like India, HELP will aim to:
Advocate for the importance of inter-sectoral, collaborative policymaking to address the health impacts of environmental pollution
Showcasing Leadership in health systems by reducing their environmental and energy burden
Build Capacity of physicians on the health impacts of environmental pollution
Members also agreed that it was imperative to work on capacity building of the health sector on environmental exposures, expand awareness among medical professionals on what constitutes sustainable health institutions and work to engage on a sustained basis with the general public on environmental exposures and health impacts.
Prof. K. Srinath Reddy (President, PHFI) stated, “Health and environment are co-dependant. Just as environmental degradation harms health in many ways, the health sector too contributes to environmental pollution and climate change through its practices. A common platform linking health professionals and environmental guardians will help to adopt a common agenda, align agents of change, amplify advocacy and accelerate action.”
“Environment and health are very closely related and each has a substantial impact on the other. I’m glad that the Public Health Foundation of India has taken up this important initiative in this crucial area and I look forward to making progress on this key determinant for health”, said Dr. Alexander Thomas, Executive Director – Association of Healthcare Providers of India and the first elected Chairperson of the platform.
Josh Karliner (International Director of Program and Strategy, HCWH) noted that, “By establishing HELP, India’s health sector is joining tens of thousands of hospitals, health systems and health organizations around the world committed to reducing their own environmental footprint and leading society toward a greener, healthier future.”
The platform Steering Committee consists of eminent leaders from various organizations including:
Health Professional Bodies – Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP) and National Neonatology Forum of India (NNF), Delhi Medical Association (DMA)
Healthcare Associations – Association of Healthcare Providers of India (AHPI), Healthcare Federation of India (NATHEALTH) and Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI)
Healthcare Accreditation Bodies – National Board of Examinations (NBE) and National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Institutions (NABH)
Private organizations – Apollo Hospitals, Dr. Lal Path Labs, SRL Diagnostics Ltd., PSG Institute of Medical Sciences
The Centre for Environmental Health at the Public Health Foundation of India will host the secretariat for the Platform.
India’s Environmental Health Burden
India’s remarkable growth story of the last 30 years has resulted in sustained economic expansion, but has also resulted in a dwindling and degraded ecosystem and a growing cloud of pollution. Environmental pollution (unclean air, water and chemical contamination) contribute significantly to India’s burden of disease and rank among the top risk factors for ill health. The growing threat of climate change with changing disease patterns and increased risk of natural disasters has only added to the urgency of tackling these important determinants of health.
How does the Health sector contribute to this?
India’s healthcare carbon footprint is not clearly marked or defined, but we know it is substantial. The requirement for consistent and reliable energy, clean water and its large waste generation capacity means that the health sector bears a considerable environmental footprint. With its poor grid connectivity and frequent power cuts, the proliferation of diesel use in the health sector has been phenomenal, with rural areas suffering from a lack of connectivity altogether. With the annual energy consumption per bed in a Multi-specialty hospital bring almost 14,000 kWh per year, the need to examine energy use as well as other aspects including waste management, and water use at an institutional level. At a sectoral level, the increased burden of disease necessitates the capacity building of physicians to address these exposures.
Why the Health sector needs to show Leadership
Health care practitioners worldwide made a pledge to “First, do no harm,” as articulated in the millennia-old Hippocratic Oath. With the growing threat of environmental exposures to human health, health care practitioners need to take a firm stand on the causes behind these exposures and in articulating the path to addressing them in a sustainable manner. Because of its size and influence, the health sector can play a unique leadership role in mitigating and educating the general public on the consequences of environmental degradation. The health care sector is well-positioned to “lead by example” in terms of reducing its environmental footprint and by demonstrating how mitigation can yield tangible, immediate health benefits.