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Climate change and the health sector – Reflections from India

The year 2023 witnessed significant milestones in raising awareness about the health impacts of climate change and about how the health sector itself contributes to climate change. Organizations such as PHFI, AHPI, and CAHO played a crucial role in mobilizing government bodies, organizations, and communities to implement climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. Through collaborative efforts, these initiatives promoted both health and environmental sustainability.

The aftermath of the National Health Conclave (NHC) on climate change held in 2019 left a lasting impact on the health sector of India. The conference brought together experts, policymakers, and stakeholders to address the health challenges posed by climate change, as well as demonstrating best practices on how the health sector can become climate-smart and climate-resilient.

The book Climate Change and the Health Sector: Healing the World served as a powerful resource in raising awareness about climate change and inspiring individuals in the health sector to take action in making the sector more climate-smart and climate-resilient. It provided a comprehensive understanding of the intricate connections between climate change and the global health sector, shedding light on the urgent need for immediate action. An oft-quoted statistic about the global health sector’s contribution to greenhouse gases is that if it were a country, it would be the fifth-largest emitter on the planet, paradoxically increasing the disease burden of the community that it is meant to protect. These considerable emissions come from the sector’s significant water consumption, energy usage, transport, waste, and carbon-intensive supply chains of healthcare operations that run 24 hours a day for 365 days a year. Any reduction in these emissions will need to come from each individual healthcare facility, adopting sustainable, climate-smart changes to decrease its individual carbon footprint in order to reduce the overall impact by the health sector.

Recognizing the critical importance of climate change and its impact on health, the Government of India has taken a significant step by establishing a curriculum committee to include climate change in the curriculum of medical education. This proactive measure ensures that future generations of healthcare workers are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to address the health challenges posed by climate change.

Looking ahead to 2024, there are several key expectations. Governments worldwide must prioritize the implementation of comprehensive policies that integrate climate change and health considerations, fostering a sustainable and resilient future. Public-private partnerships will play a crucial role in accelerating the development and deployment of climate-resilient healthcare solutions. Collaboration among the MedTech and IVD industry, governments, and healthcare organizations can drive innovation and enable the delivery of accessible and effective healthcare services, particularly in vulnerable communities affected by climate change. Continued efforts to raise awareness and educate individuals about the health risks of climate change are essential. By empowering communities with knowledge and encouraging proactive measures, we can collectively work toward mitigating the impacts of climate change on health.

As we reflect on the achievements of 2023, it is clear that progress has been made by the health sector in addressing the issue of climate change in India. However, there is still much work to be done. By prioritizing policy initiatives, fostering collaborations, and promoting education and awareness, we can strive toward a healthier and more resilient future in the face of climate change.

The article is co-authored by Divya Alexander, independent consultant with 15 years of expertise in health and public policy research. Dr Alexander Thomas, the author is also Founder & Patron, Association of National Board Accredited Institutions & Founder & Patron, Consortium of Accredited Healthcare Organizations.

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