Importance of Sustainability in Public Health
18 September 2023
According to the United Nations, the human race will need three times the resources of planet Earth if it is to sustain life in 2050. In light of alarming predictions such as this, sustainability across all facets of society is more important than ever.
In the area of public health, a focus on sustainable medicine is part of our strategy for survival. After all, the United States’ health sector is responsible for 4.6% of global CO2 emissions. This demands that we strive for conservation and the efficient utilization of resources. Neglecting our environmental responsibilities for the sake of providing public care could ultimately be hazardous to our health and lead to catastrophic results.
In this article, we take a closer look at sustainability in public health—what it means, the different types of sustainability we should aim for, and how we can adopt a better framework for it.
What Does Sustainability Mean?
Sustainability in public health refers to the integration of environmental, social, and economic practices for a holistic approach that enhances and improves healthcare. This is done to ensure that healthcare is made more accessible and effective in the long run without compromising our planet.
Healthcare sustainability is built on the pillars of:
- Mitigation: radically reducing the carbon footprint and environmental impact of the healthcare sector to improve the planet’s health
- Resilience: preparing facilities and enhancing infrastructure to reduce preventable disasters and improve community health in the face of climate emergencies
- Advocacy and communication: spreading awareness regarding the public health threats posed by climate change, and advocating for policy changes at all government levels to address the global healthcare and climate emergency
Sustainability thus involves identifying measures of sustainability and working to improve them by recognizing their relationship with public health. It also includes addressing the current gaps in healthcare to ensure a healthier future.
Environmental sustainability refers to efforts that reduce the environmental impact of the healthcare industry by encouraging greener medical practices.
Here are its benefits:
Helps Preserve Essential Resources
Thriving biodiversity and healthy ecosystems are vital for regulating and controlling diseases, maintaining stable climates, and enhancing food security.
Mitigates Health Risks From Environmental Threats
Pollution can result in respiratory diseases, waterborne illnesses, cardiovascular issues, and other health concerns from contaminated air and water. The improper disposal of hazardous medical waste, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals further increases the risk of illnesses.
Extreme weather conditions due to climate change can also severely impact human health and well-being. Healthcare systems may not be equipped to deal with such mass casualty events.
Social sustainability entails advocating for social equality and welfare as well as promoting medical education that improves public health through better access and awareness.
Achieving social sustainability affords us the following advantages:
Reduces Disparities and Aids Vulnerable Populations
Social sustainability initiatives reduce healthcare disparities based on race, income, gender, and geographical location. It involves considering the healthcare needs of marginalized or minority communities who may be more vulnerable to illnesses and diseases. Neglecting them can adversely impact overall community health.
Boosts Preventative Measures
Social sustainability puts an emphasis on lifestyle improvements and health education. If these are lacking, it could lead to the spread of preventable diseases. Social sustainability also involves increasing awareness and access to vaccines as well as disease prevention measures.
In the long term, it can improve public health, reduce the cost of healthcare, and minimize the occurrence of preventable diseases.
Improves the Well-Being and Health of Healthcare Workers
Social sustainability for healthcare professionals promotes their adequate compensation, access to mental health support, and reasonable working hours. These improve patient care by improving the motivation of healthcare employees while reducing burnout.
Economic sustainability refers to the implementation of economic policies that improve our healthcare infrastructure and ensure consistent funding for the research and development of healthcare practices.
The proper application of economic sustainability leads to:
Cost-Effective Allocation of Resources
Economic sustainability enhances cost-effectiveness by optimizing the allocation of resources that maintain quality, accessible, and affordable healthcare.
It also ensures that there are enough funds for medical research and innovation. This, in turn, enhances collaboration and encourages the development of new treatments and medical innovations.
Economic sustainability planning can help build sustainable communities that encourage better public health by improving standards of living and encouraging healthy lifestyles.
This reduces unsafe and unhygienic living conditions which can adversely impact public health.
Integrating A Holistic, Sustainable Framework
Effective healthcare sustainability requires the holistic integration of social, economic, and environmental considerations to make an impactful change.
- Public policies that incorporate sustainable frameworks and have public well-being as their core principle
- The application of sustainable design practices when planning and constructing healthcare facilities
- Raising awareness about health and hygiene through educational programs to highlight the importance of individual and collective efforts
- Researching and analyzing data to investigate the intersection of health and sustainability, refining strategies and assessing progress in all aspects of well-being
- Adopting preventative measures to reduce the spread of diseases that can be controlled and cured with timely and appropriate medical interventions
- Making healthcare affordable and accessible
- Treating public health as a united, collective, and global concern
By using the three different aspects of sustainability as guideposts, we can effectively and holistically address sustainability in public health with better healthcare systems that are inclusive, proactive, and environmentally friendly.
The climate crisis is a real and urgent issue that must also be addressed in the administration of public health measures. When we examine and focus our efforts according to environmental, social, and economic sustainability issues, we can start working on holistic solutions that address our various healthcare needs.