Month: June 2019
WHO and Health Care Without Harm Launch Two New Reports to Help Address Climate Change Impacts in the Maldives Health Care Sector
WHO and Health Care Without Harm Launch Two New Reports
to Help Address Climate Change Impacts in the Maldives Health Care Sector
June 26, 2019 — The Minister of Health of the Maldives Abdulla Ameen announced last month at the World Health Assembly in Geneva that his ministry is developing green climate-smart policies for his country’s hospitals based on two reports co-produced by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Health Care Without Harm.
The reports provide an analysis of the climate vulnerability of the Maldives’ health care system and a recommended set of policies and strategies to help the country’s health system respond to the impacts of climate change while reducing its own environmental footprint.
“The hospital assessments and the policy recommendations in these reports provide us with rich insight on how to adapt our hospitals to the impacts of climate change and are the basis for the green climate-smart health care policies we are developing for the Maldives,” said Minister Ameen.
Working closely with the Maldives Ministry of Health and WHO, Health Care Without Harm analyzed the ways in which the healthcare system contributes to climate change, is affected by the impacts of climate change and can become more resilient to those changes.
“The health facilities in the Maldives are particularly vulnerable to flooding and rising sea levels driven by climate change,” said Dr. Arvind Mathur, WHO’s Representative to the Maldives. “We anticipate that the ‘policy recommendations and implementation strategies’ outlined in the report will accelerate green, sustainable, climate-smart health care in the Maldives and many other islands states.”
As a small island nation, the Maldives experiences the brunt of climate impacts. As a first responder, the country’s national health system is working to cope with this onslaught, be able to provide health care and reduce its own carbon footprint. The Maldives Ministry of Health is currently working with a broad group of stakeholders and government agencies to evaluate, refine and implement policies based on the reports.
“We hope that these reports can serve as a basis for the Maldives to implement resilient, low-carbon climate-smart strategies that are crucial elements for viable health systems in the age of climate change,” said Health Care Without Harm’s Technical Director for Climate Change Scott Slotterback, one of the reports’ authors. “We also look forward to continuing to work with other governments to do the same.”
Building on this collaboration, the Maldives Ministry of Health became the first national ministry of health to join Health Care Without Harm’s Global Green and Healthy Hospitals network. This will provide the country’s hospitals access to GGHH’s wide range of guidance documents, webinars, case studies and measurement tools. “We look forward to continuing to learn more about green climate-smart health care through our membership in the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals network,” said Minister Ameen.
For more information
Dr. Arvind Mathur, WHO Representative to the Republic of Maldives, [email protected]
Health Care Without Harm:
Scott Slotterback, International Technical Director for Climate Change, [email protected]
Josh Karliner, International Director, Program and Strategy, [email protected] +1-415-666-2757
June 25, 2019
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10 June 2019 – On Friday, 7 June 2019, environmental justice group groundWork  and Mpumalanga community organisation Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action (Vukani)  launched landmark litigation demanding that government clean up the air in the Mpumalanga Highveld.
groundWork and Vukani, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) , claim that government has violated the Constitutional right to a healthy environment for the people living and working in the Highveld Priority Area (HPA), by failing to improve the deadly levels of air pollution in the HPA.
“Living in Witbank, one of the most polluted areas in the country, has hugely affected our health and lives. Both government and industry have continuously failed to deal with the problem, irrespective of our efforts to engage with them to ensure they take steps to protect human health. Together with groundWork, Vukani has decided to use litigation to push government to take urgent steps to deal with the high air pollution and in the interest of our health and to protect our right to clean air”, says Vusi Mabaso, Chairperson of Vukani.
In 2007, the then Minister of Environmental Affairs declared the Highveld as a Priority Area because of its poor air quality. At the time, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) acknowledged that it was an air pollution hotspot of extremely poor air quality and that “there was little doubt that people living and working in these areas do not enjoy air quality that is not harmful to their health and wellbeing”. Nearly 5 years later, in 2012, the Minister published an air quality management plan (“the HPA AQMP”) to clean up the Highveld Priority Area’s air pollution. But since then, little has changed.
Mpumalanga accounts for about 83 percent of South Africa’s coal production, and Eskom owns the 12 coal-fired power plants located in the area in and around the HPA. The area has been plagued with deadly air quality for decades, with the high concentration of coal-fired power plants in the province, Sasol’s coal-to-liquids plant located in Secunda, and the NatRef refinery contributing large amounts of pollution. In a new independent study attached to the court papers, Dr Andy Gray, an expert in air and health risk modelling, found that these 14 facilities were responsible for the lion’s share of air pollution in 2016.
Human exposure to toxic chemical compounds emitted by the coal plants, such as sulphur dioxide, heavy metals like mercury, and fine particulate matter, results in chronic respiratory illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis, and lung cancer, and contributes to strokes, heart attacks, birth defects, and premature death. Dr Gray estimates in court papers that emissions from the 14 facilities mentioned above caused between 305 and 650 early deaths in and around the HPA in 2016.
“The high levels of air pollution in and around the Highveld Priority Area constitute an immediate and significant public health hazard that should be remedied to save lives and allow current and future generations of South Africans to live longer and healthier,” says Professor Peter Orris, Head of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of Illinois, who is quoted in the court papers.
The environmental justice groups are asking the court to declare the current levels of air pollution on the Highveld a violation of people’s Constitutional rights, and to force government to take meaningful action to implement and enforce the HPA AQMP. The groups were forced to launch this case because of the repeated failure of government to enforce air quality laws.
“groundWork and the communities we represent have consistently been highlighting the issue of air pollution and its negative impacts on human health, and our lived experience is that government is not holding the big polluters to account. This is a public health crisis that can no longer be ignored,” says Bobby Peek, Director of groundWork.
An October 2017 report by the Centre for Environmental Rights, in collaboration with groundWork and the Highveld Environmental Justice Network, titled “Broken Promises: Failure of the Highveld Priority Area”, outlined the failure of government to achieve the HPA’s goals, and the steps necessary for comprehensive clean-up of the area’s air.
When the then Minister of Environmental Affairs eventually responded to these demands on 9 May 2019 – after several letters from the CER – she took the view that, although air quality was not at acceptable levels, “desired improvements will not happen over a short period of time, but rather progressively over time”. She also indicated that it was not necessary to make regulations to implement and enforce the HPA AQMP, as the plan is simply one of several tools to address air pollution and “it was never meant to be a regulation but instead a plan that seeks to promote collaboration between stakeholder[s] and articulate shared vision and goals.”
“It is unacceptable for government, almost 12 years after the HPA’s declaration, to say that adequate progress has been achieved towards protecting the health and wellbeing of people in the HPA. Expert analysis included in the court papers (see pages p293 and p329) shows that thousands of school children and the elderly are acutely affected by the area’s air pollution and the supporting affidavits in this case paint a devastating picture of how this poor air quality impacts residents’ daily lives. It is high time that the South African government prioritises the human rights of the families residing in this pollution hotspot,” says Tim Lloyd, attorney at CER.
The Environmental Affairs Minister is now required, by early July 2019, to make available, all the records relating to her decision not to promulgate regulations to make the HPA AQMP enforceable, and the reasons for this decision. groundWork and Vukani can then amend and supplement their application within 10 working days. If the respondents – the Minister, the National Air Quality Officer, the President, and the two relevant MECs in Gauteng and Mpumalanga – intend to oppose this litigation, they are required to file their notice of opposition either by early July 2019.
 groundWork is a non-profit environmental justice organisation working primarily in Southern Africa in the areas of Climate & Energy Justice, Coal, Environmental Health, Global Green and Healthy Hospitals, and Waste. groundWork is the South African member of Health Care Without Harm and Friends of the Earth International. @groundWorkSA
 Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action is a community organisation based in Witbank. Its focuses mainly on environmental and social issues affecting disadvantaged communities in the area, and uses community mobilisation as a tool to address environmental challenges.
 The Centre for Environmental Rights is a non-profit organisation and law clinic based in Cape Town, South Africa. CER is a group of activist lawyers who help communities and civil society organisations in South Africa realise their Constitutional right to a healthy environment by advocating and litigating for environmental justice. @CentreEnvRights
June 13, 2019
The 72nd World Health Assembly that took place 20-28 May in Geneva, Switzerland was a monumental one for climate and health and climate-smart health care. These issues took center stage as the WHO and ministers of health from around the world set out to discuss and resolve strategies to address climate change.
Global strategy on health, environment and climate change
The World Health Assembly approved a first ever Global strategy on health environment and climate change: the transformation needed to improve lives and well-being sustainably through healthy environments.
“This draft strategy aims to provide a vision and way forward on how the world and its health community need to respond to environmental health risks and challenges until 2030, and to ensure safe, enabling and equitable environments for health by transforming our way of living, working, producing, consuming and governing.”
“To address the challenges in health, environment and climate change, governments, society and individuals will all need to continue to rethink the way we live, work, produce, consume and govern. This transformation requires focusing action on upstream determinants of health, the environment and determinants of climate change in an integrated and mainstreamed approach across all sectors, using a public health framework enabled and supported by adequate governance mechanisms and high-level political will, tailored to the national circumstances. The health sector needs to play a new role to drive this transformation, using a sustainable and equitable approach, and socially-just transition.”1
Technical briefing- Green, sustainable & climate resilient health care facilities
On Friday 24 May, the WHO hosted a high-level technical briefing on Green, sustainable and climate resilient health care facilities and the important role they play in addressing climate change. Josh Karliner, International Director of Program and Strategy at HCWH, presented at the event to discuss the opportunities that health care can take to mitigate its environmental and public health impacts, transform itself to be climate-smart and be a vocal leader advocating for climate action. Watch a recording of his presentation.
Dr. Tedros Adhonam, Director General of the WHO, spoke on the imperative of health care to adopt climate-smart strategies:
“Healthcare facilities are the operational heart of service delivery – protecting health, treating patients and saving lives. Yet health facilities are also a source of carbon emissions, contributing to climate change. The world’s health care facilities churn out CO2 through the use of significant resources and energy-hungry equipment. This is perhaps ironic – as medical professionals our commitment is to “first, do no harm”. Places of healing should be leading the way, not contributing to the burden of disease.
“The world needs health facilities that demonstrate that increasing climate change resilience and mitigating carbon emissions can be complementary, rather than competing objectives. There is so much that can be done. Health facilities can transition to renewable energy, employ energy efficiency measures, install solar panels, use rainwater tanks, implement sustainable healthcare waste management and refuse single-use plastics.
“Unfortunately, most health facilities in low- and middle-income countries lack access to reliable energy supplies. For example, 1 in 4 health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa lacks access to electricity, and many more have intermittent, unreliable supplies. “The UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit this year will be an important opportunity to secure strong commitments and investments in proven interventions for climate-resilient health systems, and in air quality monitoring and policy implementation.”
WHO Civil Society Working Group to Advance Action on Climate Change and Health
On Friday 24th May, the Global Climate and Health Alliance and the World Health Organization launched the WHO Civil Society Working Group to Advance Action on Climate Change and Health. The group aims to strengthen WHO-NGO collaboration to address climate change and thus protect and promote people’s health.
Health Care Without Harm is a member of this group along with the following organizations:
- Associação Brasileira de Saúde Coletiva
- Alliance for Health Promotion
- Climate and Health Alliance (Australia)
- Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment
- Health and Environment Alliance
- INDEPTH Network
- International Council of Nurses
- International Federation of Environmental Health
- International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations
- International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
- Public Health Foundation of India
- World Medical Association
June 5, 2019