More People Can Access Surgery. That’s Great For Them, Awful For The Planet

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A baby is delivered via cesarean section at the Butaro Hospital in northern Rwanda. The facility is designed so that natural wind flows ventilate surgical suites, eliminating the need to burn fossil fuels to mechanically ventilate them.

William Campbell/Corbis via Getty Images


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William Campbell/Corbis via Getty Images


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Medical Residents Learn To Treat The Growing Health Hazards Of Climate Change

«There is still the perception that green products are more costly, when that’s not always the case,» Sheehan says. Additionally, some critics think sustainability practices take too much time to do or isn’t as safe, she says. Others aren’t interested in changing habits that have worked so far.

But the article warns that climate change is already having a negative effect on the ability of doctors to serve their patients. Not only are diseases changing and worsening because of increasing temperatures and pollution, but climate disasters, like heat waves, storms and fires, are also destroying hospitals, cutting off power and interrupting supply chains.

Bernstein says it’s «absolutely» possible to increase access to surgical care without «breaking the climate,» despite challenges. For example, biomedical devices should be labeled with their energy efficiency rating, like refrigerators and TVs are, Wilburn suggests.

Developing countries could also skip the wasteful, carbon-intensive practices prevalent in wealthier nations and go straight to sustainable options. Butaro Hospital in Rwanda, for example, is designed so that natural wind flows ventilate surgical suites, eliminating the need to burn fossil fuels to mechanically ventilate them. In Haiti, Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais is solar-powered, which has allowed the hospital to operate at lower cost, without interruptions. Power outages in the city of Mirebalais average three hours per day and are worse during disasters such as hurricanes. Another study found that cataract surgery methods in southern India – using manual, reusable tools – were cheaper, faster, produced fewer emissions and had a low infection rate compared to how the surgery is usually done in the West with an ultrasonic machine.


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«These are real windows into the future of sustainable health care in surgical practice,» Bernstein says.

And it’s something that wealthier countries can learn from.

«Sometimes wealthy countries tend to think that our approach is best,» Sheehan says, «when oftentimes, there is something to be learned from countries that are working with [fewer] resources.»

Joanne Lu is a freelance journalist who covers global poverty and inequity. Her work has appeared in Humanosphere, The Guardian, Global Washington and War is Boring. Follow her on Twitter: @joannelu

  • hospital
  • greenhouse gases
  • energy
  • Health Care
  • climate change

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