May 24, 2009

Report Encourages Hospitals To Help Combat Pollution

The World Health Organization said on Friday that hospitals and their emergency vehicles, which are major polluters, must join the fight against climate change, Reuters reported.

Maria Neira, director of the WHO's department of public health and environment, told a news briefing that the health sector could contribute a lot to reduce the carbon footprint because in many countries it is the second most important user and energy consumption is often very high.

A WHO report published on Friday showed that the amount of energy produced by hospitals and healthcare centers is contributing to a growing number of asthma cases and more respiratory illness as well as a higher number of emergency room visits.

The report went on to cite evidence suggesting the health sector's energy use and resulting toxic emissions could undermine the health of the very communities the sector is meant to serve.

It called on the health sector to make hospitals greener, as use of electricity in the United States adds over $600 million per year in direct health costs and more than $5 billion in indirect costs.

Countries must clamp down on emissions, which are expected to cause more droughts, floods, crop failures, spread disease and raise sea levels, according to The United Nations.

The WHO said it is urging hospitals to use alternative forms of energy such as solar panels and wind turbines, install energy-efficient lightbulbs. The report also urges hospitals to buy organic food from local suppliers and make ambulances more friendly for the environment.

The report also called for the use of more efficient and alternative-fuel vehicles: "The health sector, with its fleets of hospital vehicles, delivery vehicles, and staff and patient travel, is a transportation-intensive industry."

Climate change is likely to have a negative impact on the health of many as air becomes more polluted and temperature increases may encourage the spread of infectious diseases, such as malaria and cholera, experts warn.

Neira said evidence has shown that global warming will essentially exacerbate those existing health problems.

"It will create better conditions for the spread and transmission of certain infectious diseases," she said.

Extreme weather, such as hurricanes and heatwaves, are also likely to damage people's health, Neira warned.


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