• Health infrastructure is responsible for almost 5% of all greenhouse gases

  • More than 50 countries, including Spain, are committed to reducing the pollution of their health systems

Never like in these two long years of pandemic so much emphasis has been placed on the need to have Systems of health powerful, hospitals well equipped so that the sudden increase in income that successive waves of covid have brought with them do not cause collapses. But there is a hidden face, and to some extent paradoxical, in all this effort to heal. Hospitals pollute a lot. The healthcare industry is behind almost 5% of all greenhouse gases. If it were a country, it would be the fifth most polluting, only slightly behind Russia.

The phenomenon has remained in a background since the efforts to fight the climate crisis. The Spanish climate change law, considered very complete by specialists and approved by Congress in May, does not mention it. But now, coinciding with the effort to highlight the health problems that global warming is already causing (rather than continuing to focus on environmental symbols more traditional, such as forests and polar bears), begins to be treated thoroughly.

Within the Climate Summit (COP26) held in Glasgow, more than 50 countries, Spain among them, committed 15 days ago to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their health systems. It’s about a very vague agreement, in need of concretions, but it is also the first time that a pact of this type has been reached.

Anesthesia and inhalers

Packed with computers, machinery and lighting systems that operate non-stop, hospitals consume the double energy than an average commercial building. The gases used in anesthesia, as well as inhalers, have a powerful greenhouse effect. The contribution of nitrous oxide global warming, for example, is 300 times greater than carbon dioxide. And then there is the waste, since an important part of the hospital material it can only be used once. Even so, the main polluting factor has to do with consumption and service chain: the production, transport and disposal of pharmaceutical products, medical devices and food represents around 70% of the total.

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Can be done many improvements. Reuse material, after proper cleaning. Install solar panels. Minimize, without neglecting the health of the patient, the use of inhalers. Include environmental clauses in contracts with subcontracted companies. Some centers are already carrying them out, within initiatives such as the Global Network of Green and Healthy Hospitals, which brings together more than 1,000 centers in 60 countries, seven of them in Spain. Among others, the Institut Català d’Oncologia, in Barcelona, ​​and the Hospital Clínico San Carlos, in Madrid.

At least 25,000 deaths a year

At the same time, at the Glasgow summit, which ended with a minimum agreement in which countries recognized that they were failing, the consequences of climate change for health have been at the center of the debate for the first time in a meeting of this type, a shift in the approach that seeks to make political leaders, traditionally reluctant to take action, feel more pressed when it comes to acting. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), warming will cause between 2030 and 2050 at least 25,000 deaths a year.

The tests They keep accumulating. In early September, major medical journals around the world published a joint editorial arguing that the 1.5 degree increase from pre-industrial levels meant “The greatest threat to global health”. But the current course goes much further, to a three degree rise in 2100.

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Climate change is multiplying heat waves, intensifying forest fires, increasing floods and worsening droughts, phenomena that in turn cause an increase in mortality related to high temperatures, pregnancy problems and cardiovascular diseases. There are also the indirect consequences, which threaten to undo decades of improvements in food security and water quality: the dryness of the soil has an impact on the malnutrition and elevated temperatures and sudden changes in humidity levels can provide ideal habitats for mosquitos that spread malaria and dengue fever, as well as pathogens that cause diseases such as anger.

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Meanwhile, the infrastructures in charge of curing or at least alleviating all these ailments, hospitals, are behind of an important part of the factors that cause them.


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