Healthcare sustainability has emerged as one of the most critical challenges of our time, impacting societies across the globe. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that healthcare sustainability is directly contributing to humanitarian emergencies, including challenges such as heatwaves, wildfires, floods, tropical storms, and hurricanes, which are increasing in scale, frequency, and intensity . Research shows that 3.6 billion people already live in areas highly susceptible to challenges in healthcare sustainability.

Between 2030 and 2050, these challenges are expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, primarily due to undernutrition, air pollution, diarrhoea and natural calamities. In the face of this existential threat, the UAE has taken remarkable strides to develop a health system that can withstand the consequences of challenges in healthcare sustainability. By prioritising sustainability in healthcare, the UAE is not only forging a healthier future for its people but also driving innovation and advocating change that benefits society and the planet as a whole. As the world gears up for COP28, the urgency of implementing healthcare systems resilient to challenges becomes increasingly apparent.

The UAE, known for its visionary approach and commitment to innovation, has recognised the need to develop a health system that can adapt to the challenges posed by healthcare sustainability. Rising temperatures, extreme weather events and shifting disease patterns pose formidable obstacles for healthcare systems worldwide. The UAE, with its forward-thinking leadership, understands the significance of building a resilient health system that can safeguard the well-being of its citizens and residents. By investing in sustainable infrastructure, healthcare facilities can weather the storm of changing conditions and continue to provide vital services even in the face of adversity.

Sustainability lies at the heart of building a healthier future for individuals, society, and the planet as a whole. Embracing sustainability in healthcare encompasses a comprehensive approach that not only reduces carbon emissions but also focuses on promoting well-being. Energy-efficient buildings, waste reduction and recycling programmes and the integration of renewable energy sources are among the sustainable healthcare practices that contribute to reducing the ecological footprint of healthcare facilities. The Sustainable City in Dubai and Sheikh Khalifa Medical in Abu Dhabi are a few examples of the UAE's commitment to sustainability. The UAE is one among the most prudent regarding disposal of medical and hazardous waste where the healthcare providers are mandatorily required to have an agreement with professional agencies who collect the medical waste and dispose it off safely avoiding contamination and impact on healthcare of patients and medical professionals. Furthermore, by promoting sustainable lifestyles and preventive healthcare measures, we can achieve better health outcomes while alleviating the burden on the healthcare system in the long run.

Innovation is a driving force behind sustainable healthcare practices and the UAE stands at the forefront of this transformative journey. By harnessing the power of technology, the country is revolutionising the healthcare industry. Telemedicine, wearable devices, artificial intelligence, and data analytics are just a few examples of sustainable healthcare innovations that are shaping the future of healthcare delivery globally. These technologies not only enhance patient care but also contribute to more efficient and sustainable healthcare systems. For instance, remote patient monitoring reduces the need for unnecessary hospital visits, lowering carbon emissions associated with transportation while simultaneously reducing the strain on healthcare infrastructure.

Moreover, sustainable healthcare innovation extends beyond technological advancements. The development and utilisation of eco-friendly medical devices and materials play a pivotal role in reducing the ecological impact of the healthcare sector. Biodegradable or reusable medical supplies and equipment drastically minimise waste generation, while incorporating sustainable practices in pharmaceutical manufacturing reduces water consumption and promotes the use of clean energy sources. By embracing these initiatives, the healthcare industry can contribute significantly to a greener and more sustainable future.

The link between healthcare sustainability and social justice is undeniable. Healthcare sustainability exacerbates existing health disparities, disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations. Marginalised communities, low-income groups and regions with limited access to healthcare are more susceptible to the impacts of healthcare sustainability. Heatwaves, natural disasters and the spread of infectious diseases are just a few examples of how healthcare sustainability amplifies health inequities. By addressing healthcare sustainability and ensuring the development of healthcare systems resilient to challenges, we take a significant step towards achieving social justice in healthcare.

Additionally, there are several other avenues that can contribute to healthcare-resilient and sustainable healthcare. One such area is research and development, which plays a crucial role in driving innovation and finding sustainable solutions. Investment in research to understand the health impacts of healthcare sustainability, develop resilient infrastructure and promote sustainable healthcare practices is essential. Collaborative partnerships between healthcare institutions, research organisations and policymakers can facilitate the exchange of knowledge and best practices, accelerating progress towards a healthcare-resilient system.

Furthermore, education and awareness are vital in ensuring the success of sustainable healthcare initiatives. Educating healthcare professionals about the link between healthcare sustainability and health and training them in sustainable practices equips them with the necessary tools to address the challenges ahead. Raising public awareness about the importance of sustainable healthcare practices empowers individuals to make informed choices that contribute to a healthier and more sustainable future.

Healthcare sustainability is not a distant threat but a present reality and its impacts on healthcare systems will continue to escalate if we fail to act promptly. COP28 serves as a crucial platform for global leaders, policymakers and healthcare professionals to prioritise healthcare-resilient systems and foster collaboration to drive meaningful change. The time to act is now and together, we can build a more sustainable, resilient, and equitable healthcare system that benefits all.

The UAE’s commitment to developing a health system resilient to challenges in healthcare sustainability serves as an inspiring example for the world. By prioritising sustainability, driving innovation, and recognising the link between challenges in healthcare sustainability, healthcare and social justice, the UAE paves the way for a healthier and more sustainable future. With the impactful COP28 conference just a few weeks away, global leaders must acknowledge the urgency of implementing healthcare-resilient systems and take decisive action to mitigate the health impacts of challenges in healthcare sustainability. Let us seize this opportunity to build a better future for all, where healthcare is resilient, sustainable, and accessible to everyone. (ends)

- Article authored by Dr. Azad Moopen, Founder Chairman & Managing Director, Aster DM Healthcare

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