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'Health Care Without Harm' Works to Reduce Hospitals' Ecological Footprints

Marianela Jarroud - Inter Press Service
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August 18, 2012

Medical care is associated with images of cleanliness and good health. Today’s hospitals, however, are major sources of pollution and consume large amounts of valuable resources, like energy.

Often this pollution leads to illnesses which must be treated by the same hospitals that contributed to causing them, the co-director of Health Care Without Harm in the United States, Kathy Gerwig, told Tierramérica*.

The problem is that “environmental health is usually not taught in medical schools,” added Gerwig, vice president of workplace safety and environmental stewardship officer for Kaiser Permanente, one of the United States’ leading non-profit health care providers.

But hospitals are beginning to address the issue of their ecological footprint.

Health Care Without Harm has attracted more than 3,500 institutions throughout the world to the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Network. In Chile, network members include the hospitals in Illapel, Salamanca and Los Vilos and the Provincial Health Department of Choapa, a province in the Coquimbo region.

In order to join, institutions merely need to commit to at least two of the ten goals established in the network’s global agenda, in the areas of leadership, chemicals, waste, energy, water, transportation, food, pharmaceuticals, buildings and purchasing.

The global agenda is a voluntary initiative. Its aims include the total elimination of mercury, a potent neurotoxin used in a variety of products including thermometers, sphygmomanometers (blood pressure meters) and various electronic devices.

The campaign to ban mercury has been joined by hospitals and national and provincial authorities in numerous countries in Latin America, such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Nicaragua, biologist Verónica Odriozola, the regional coordinator of Health Care Without Harm, told Tierramérica.


This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.

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