DHBs in the South Island are working together to address climate change and promote environmental sustainability to improve the health of current and future populations.
The effects and reality of Climate Change have been highlighted by the definitive reports recently released by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and by activities happening this annual Earth Day (April 22).
The Public Health Partnership (PHP), one of many work streams in an Alliance of South Island DHBs working toward improved South Island population health, has formed a workgroup to support DHBs to actively address sustainability in the delivery of DHB services.
Medical Officer of Health at Public Health South, and member of the new sustainability workgroup, Dr Derek Bell said that although the links between environment and health have long been acknowledged, the health sector increasingly understands the relationship between climate and health.
“Climate change is recognised as one of the most important emerging threats to public health. Examples of associated health effects include those arising from extreme weather events, increased vector-borne diseases, food and water shortages, displaced populations.”
“Mitigating environmental causes of illness and maintaining wellbeing is one of the health sector’s most important preventative measures. Sustainable delivery of health services, to maximise dollars and resources, are important too.”
“DHBs are major infrastructural organisations with large carbon footprints. If we are not able to prioritise environmental sustainability, we will incur massive health, environmental and financial costs downstream,” he said.
Characteristic to the South Island Alliance’s ‘whole-of-system’ approach, the Partnership’s work aligns with another work stream, Support Services, which is guiding regional efficiencies and sustainability in laundering and linen usage, food services, procurement, facilities management and engineering, waste and energy.
In SDHB and NMDHB, for example, linen usage principles have been adopted by the DHB’s support services so that linen and laundering are more efficient and use less water and power.
In Canterbury DHB, a sustainability officer is in the process of being recruited, the fourth DHB in New Zealand to make such an appointment.
Dr Bell points to the UK, where a national sustainable approach to health is progressing well.
”While New Zealand has an opportunity to learn from healthcare sustainability initiatives overseas, closer to home Counties Manukau DHB are leading the way nationally with their Certified Emissions Measurement And Reduction Scheme (greenhouse gas emissions reduction) accreditation.
“This shows that our New Zealand healthcare system can show leadership and make a real difference by responding to and mitigating the very real threats to health of climate change.”