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Planetary Health

Climate change and the future of healthcare

Mankind is healthier than ever. On the other hand, the health of our planet is becoming increasingly strained. What is the impact of climate change on our health? And how can healthcare succeed in the future?

Die Basics: The Health of Humanity & the Planet

Klimawandel und Gesundheitsversorgung

The fact that mankind is healthier than ever before can be seen from two key indicators: Life expectancy worldwide is steadily increasing. At the same time, the infant mortality rate is falling. The problem is that we are increasingly exploiting the planet in order to meet the enormous resource needs of our society and its health care. We are putting more and more pressure on the planet for supplies, health and luxury. And with it our health:

Planetary Health describes “how human health depends on the health of ecosystems: only if the earth is healthy, humanity can be healthy.” Deutsche Allianz für Klimawandel und Gesundheit (KLUG)

Deepdive: Sustainability in the Health Care Sector

How does climate change affect our health?

If we harm the planet, we harm ourselves. The concrete effects on our health are felt in different areas. Let's take a closer look at some of them: The hotter summers with longer periods of heat, for example, put a strain on our circulatory system. Especially in older people this means an increased mortality [Q1]. During the 2003 heatwaves, an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 extra people died in 12 European countries, making this summer one of Europe’s biggest ‘natural disasters’. [Q2].

Air pollution caused by the burning of predominantly fossil fuels also affects our health through cardiovascular, respiratory and pulmonary diseases as well as asthma. On average, it shortens the life span of a European by two years. Climate change is thus the biggest environmental risk to our health [Q3]. Speaking of the lung: because of the increasingly earlier beginning of spring, the pollen also flies earlier and longer. This leads to prolonged exposure times and intensification of allergies [Q4]. Not to mention the scarcity of drinking water or the barren soil due to drought and erosion, on which food can no longer be grown.

Researchers estimate that climate change impacts will cost 250,000 lives per year by 2050 [Q5].

In a nutshell

Impact of climate change on our health:

  • Cycle Strain from Prolonged Heatwaves
  • Increasing number of heat deaths
  • Cardiovascular, respiratory and lung diseases, as well as asthma caused by air pollution
  • Longer exposure time and intensification of allergies
  • Scarcity of drinking water
  • Loss of food due to infertile soils

How much does the health sector impact the climate?

The healthcare industry plays a significant role in resource consumption and climate change. To provide health care, we invest many resources in researching and curing diseases. According to the Circularity Gap Report, 9.3% of global resources [Q6] are used for healthcare.

Let's take a closer look at one of these resources: Plastics count as an enabler of modern healthcare. They are easy to shape, hygienic, durable and versatile. To meet the industry's high hygiene standards, more and more reusable items have been replaced with disposables.

CO2 Emissionen Gesundheitssektor

Single-use plastic products became the safest and most cost-effective solution to ensure patient safety. This has led to improvements in health care, but it is not a long-term solution: today, health care uses 4% of all plastics produced [Q7], and these are almost exclusively of fossil origin. The production and disposal (in the healthcare sector usually by incineration) of plastics cause enormous climate pollution:

Overall, according to Health Care Without Harm, 4.4% of global CO2 emissions [Q8] go to the account of our health system. By way of comparison, global aviation and shipping is responsible for only 3.6% of CO2 emissions.

How can the future of our healthcare be made more sustainable?

In order to ensure the long-term health of the planet, and hence our health, the health system itself must become more sustainable. The energy and resource consumption of hospitals must be reduced. There are different approaches to this, such as the use of renewable resources or the transition to a circular economy.

One component, for example, is the switch from conventional plastics to climate-friendly, recyclable bioplastics.

This point is, of course, particularly important to us. We founded BIOVOX to enable the medical industry to change towards a Circular Economy Our MedEco Medical Grade Bioplastics have up to 85% less CO2, are ready for circular economy and safe to be used in medtech. We are already working on net zero plastics..

BIOVOX MedEco IGH Medical Grade Bioplastic
Grafik: Der Klimawandel und die Zukunft unserer Gesundheitsversorgung

To ensure our health care, we need to take care of the health of the planet.

Climate protection measures and the benefits for our health go hand in hand: a classic win-win situation. Environmentally friendly urban planning with more green spaces removes CO2 from the air and provides cooling. Adopting a diet with reduced meat consumption is healthier and simultaneously reduces greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

By exercising, e.g. cycling, we strengthen our cardiovascular system and cause hardly any pollution of fine dust and pollutants. With a healthier lifestyle, we also act preventively, because fewer diseases also mean less use of resources.

If we act holistically and make the right decisions on a number of settings, we will secure the future of the health system and our planet: legislation, sustainable use of resources, such as through a circular economy, and the transition to renewable resources.

In a nutshell

3 tips to protect the climate and health at the same time

  1. Cycling strengthens the cardiovascular system and causes hardly any pollution of fine dust and pollutants
  2. Green spaces in cities provide cooling and remove CO2 from the air
  3. A meat-reduced diet is healthier and reduces greenhouse gas emissions

In short: health care needs to become more sustainable

BIOVOX Megaphon

With increasing pressure on our environment, climatic changes occur that have a direct impact on our health. As a result of climate change, heat waves lead to an increased number of heat deaths, infertile soils and malnutrition. This means that the health of our planet and the health of mankind are linked. The health sector itself is also a significant contributor to climate change due to its high resource requirements. In order to guarantee our health care in the future, these must be more sustainable. One possibility is the use of renewable raw materials, such as bioplastics, instead of finite fossil resources.

Citation of source

Do you want to delve deeper into the subject?
For the creation of this blog article, I have used different sources. These are marked [Q...] in the text and can be found here:
[Q1] Deutsches Ärtzeblatt
[Q2] Klimawandel in Deutschland
[Q3] Health for Future
[Q4] Klimawandel in Deutschland
[Q5] Planetary Health
[Q6] The Circularity Gap Report 2020
[Q7] Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council
[Q8] Health Care’s Climate Footprint

Carmen Rommel, Supply Chain & Sustainability
Autorin: Carmen Rommel, COO von BIOVOX

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