Blog | A Sustainable Health Future in South Africa

The health sector is taking leadership for a sustainable future in Africa, as hospitals reduce the financial and health costs of energy

Source: groundWork - Newsletter June 2015

Over the past few years it has become clearer that human activities are increasing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. We continue to burn fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – to satisfy our thirst for energy. This in turn has contributed significantly to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, particularly carbon dioxide. According to a recent scary statistic reported by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), over 200 years carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas responsible for climate change, has increased by 30%.


The UNFCCC have held a series of annual meetings aimed at stabilizing the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at levels that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Carbon dioxide is causing our planet to warm up, and if left unchecked will lead to catastrophic effects on our environment and health. The UNFCCC Conference of parties (CoP) process is working towards securing a legally-binding global climate agreement on curbing carbon emissions, to be made at CoP21 in December 2015 in Paris, with a binding effect from 2020. In April 2015, the GGHH's initiative launched the 2020 Health Care Climate Challenge (HCCC), encouraging the health sector to reduce their carbon footprint and protect public health from climate change. Over twenty leading health care institutions from across the globe have already pledged to take meaningful action on climate change, by reducing their carbon emissions and therefore kicking off a worldwide campaign to mobilize hospitals and health systems to address humanity's most pressing problem.

In Africa, the Western Cape Government Health Department, which is already a member of GGHH, has pledged to the 2020 HCCC, specifically committing to "reducing its carbon footprint from energy consumption at government hospitals in the Western Cape Province… by 10% in 2020 and 30% in 2030 based on the 2005 levels, which amounts to saving about 15000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually." This demonstrates the department's leadership in promoting a sustainable future, as they are beginning to recognise that they need to look beyond the immediacy of the doctor-patient relationship to incorporate a more global vision of environmental health.

Our hope is that within the next year or so, this will inspire other health systems and hospitals in the region to make similar commitments. As health professionals, the mandate is to prevent and cure disease, so it is necessary to lead by example and encourage others to change their own practices and policies that affect a healthy and sustainable environment.

Sustainability coordinators going global

Africa Health Congress, which is one of the continent's largest healthcare exhibitions and the leading platform for the industry to learn and connect, recently concluded its fourth congress, which took place at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Johannesburg between the 5th and 6th of May 2015. The exhibition attracted more than 7 000 healthcare professionals and hosted 500 of the world's leading healthcare suppliers, manufacturers and service providers. Thousands of new healthcare products, equipment and services were showcased by the main players in the industry. Africa Health provided an opportunity for participants to see the latest technologies on display and test them out, all under one roof.

Africa health Congress had ten parallel conferences, of which the Public Health Conference was one. The objectives of the Public Health Conference were to: explore the link between the quality of healthcare services and universal health coverage; discover South Africa's plan towards eliminating malaria; review regional and international approaches to the Ebola outbreak; evaluate the need for good leadership, implementation and management strategies; and discuss the global burden of NonCommunicable Diseases. Two GGHH Sustainability Coordinators – representing Khayelitsha Hospital and Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University – presented their case studies. This was hugely signifi cant as it propelled the practice of the GGHH initiative in South Africa onto a global platform.

The green hospital contingent included the Support Service Manager from Khayelitsha Hospital, Mrs. Annelene Du Plessis, and Dr. Eben Mouton, lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University. We presented under the theme of "Leadership and Universal Health Coverage" and our session was moderated by Julia Moorman, President of the Public Health Association of South Africa (PHASA) and Dr. Waasila Jassat, Clinical Advisor of the Aurum Institute in Johannesburg. The topics presented were:

  • "Global Green and Healthy Hospital: Global and African overview and context" – Luqman Yesufu.
  • "Energy efficiency and cost saving at Khayelitsha Hospital" – Annelene Du Plessis.
  • "Reduction in energy usage at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University" – Eben Mouton.