Anthropogenic climate change jeopardises medical progress made in recent decades and may lead to a rise in malnutrition, threaten mental health, increase the incidence of cardiovascular, pulmonary and infectious diseases, and might cause premature deaths.
Following the publication in 2019 of its position paper on sustainable development of the health system, the SAMS is seeking through several means to raise awareness of the relationship between health and the environment.
Sustainable health services
While human health is certainly adversely affected by climate change, the health system itself is also partly responsible for the current environmental crisis. In Switzerland, the health system accounts for between 5% and 8% of the national carbon footprint. How can we rethink health services so that they respect planetary boundaries? Possible solutions are outlined by the SAMS in its position paper published in 2022.
With the aim of transforming this vicious circle into a virtuous circle, the SAMS position paper entitled «Promotion of health services respecting planetary boundaries» formulates seven proposals with three overarching goals:
- Reducing the use of health services
- Adapting healthcare practices
- Reducing emissions and improving the environmental efficiency of health services
There is a need for broad reflection involving society and the health system as a whole, as well as hospitals and other facilities. None of these goals can be achieved without training and awareness raising activities for health professionals on environmental sustainability issues. With this publication, the SAMS aims to raise awareness among health actors at every level, inspiring them to develop concrete, context-specific measures designed to reduce their environmental footprint.
Read the executive summary.
With regard to health promotion, it is sometimes possible to «kill two birds with one stone» – that is, to help protect the environment while also improving health. In the literature, these are known as «co-benefits». Professor Nicolas Senn (Unisanté, Lausanne) discusses this topic in the SAMS Bulletin 4/2020.
The concept of «co-benefits» is explored in depth in the Revue Médicale Suisse with a comprehensive, interactive literature review (f/e). The analysis shows that a real paradigm shift is needed in our society, in the healthcare system, and regarding our understanding of health. Several important factors pertaining to these considerations are elaborated based on the themes of nutrition, active mobility, and contact with nature. In these areas, the environmental impact can be reduced and direct co-benefits for health can be achieved with certain structural changes and individual behavioral changes. Although considering environmental perspectives in clinical practice may be a given for some, the authors conclude that there is an overall need to rethink the concepts of health, disease, and the associated health services.
In 2020, the Biodiversity Forum of the Swiss Academy of Sciences (SCNAT) published a factsheet that explains how biodiversity contributes to a healthy life and shows that its preventive and therapeutic potential is still largely untapped.
At the invitation of both Chambers, the Swiss Parliament discussed the challenges of the climate and biodiversity crisis with researchers in May 2022. The event was organized by the Swiss Academies.
Health and climate change
Since 2016, the Lancet has published annual reports that track progress on health and climate change. This «Lancet Countdown» monitors compliance with the commitments of national governments under the Paris Agreement. It includes a series of indicators, providing statistical information on relevant developments worldwide over the past year.
With the support of the Gebert Rüf Foundation, the Swiss Association for Science Journalism has co-financed the multimedia project «One Health». The extensive web reportage accompanies «One Health» pioneer Jakob Zinsstag on a journey to the causes of the Covid 19 pandemic.
GHG emissions in the health sector
In 2021, the SAMS endorsed the publication of an international commentary, emphasizing the responsibility of the health sector to reduce its own GHG emissions.