August 2017

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Safer Chemicals

An historic day: The Minamata convention enters into force

Learn about Health Care Without Harm (HCWH)'s work leading up to the Minamata convention coming into force today with a short video. HCWH Founder and President Gary Cohen considers the future challenges of implementation with a foreword by HCWH Europe Director Anja Leetz.

Today is a great day to celebrate: the UN Minamata Convention enters into force. The world community has come together to address the neurotoxin mercury and now we start to control and reduce human and environmental exposure. Although already signed in October 2013, the convention required at least 50 countries for ratification.

HCWH Europe, along with many other organisations, has been working to achieve change in the healthcare sector by educating the health community about viable alternatives to mercury-based thermometers, sphygmomanometers, and dental amalgam. In 2007 the EU parliament voted for a phase out of mercury thermometers, in 2012 MEPs also voted for the phase out of blood pressure devices and in 2017 a partial phase out of dental amalgam was achieved. Health systems are part of the global fight to reduce occupational hazards and patient exposure.

Learn more about Mercury with our infographic or visit our mercury resources page.

Today is also a sobering moment to recognise how slow our collective response to industrial pollution is. The Minamata disease was first caused by the release of methylmercury in industrial wastewater from a chemical company - first reported in 1956 . Locals around the Minamata Bay, Japan, were eating fish that had bioaccummulated mercury from waste-water released into the environment; consuming high levels of mercury in this way poisoned them and their children, and the devastating neurological effects became known as Minamata disease. The pollution and damage to health continued for many years until the company responsible and government finally took action.

We must protect humans and the environment from the neurotoxin mercury by reducing exposure wherever possible. HCWH Europe wants to continue working with European countries, the health sector, and the public to speed up the implementation of the Minamata convention through education and prevention of mercury exposure. This includes safe collection and storage of mercury based devices (including from people’s homes) and a reduction of mercury from other sources such as coal fire plants.

HCWH Europe will attend the first conference of the parties to the Minamata convention to be held from 24th - 29th September in Geneva, Switzerland.

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Discussing antimicrobial resistance at World Water Week event
Organised by the Swedish International Water Institute (SIWI) this year's World Water Week opened in Stockholm on 27th August; this year’s theme was Water and waste: Reduce and reuse. Each year over 3000 participants interested in water issues gather from all over the world at the conference.

One issue covered in this conference was pharmaceutical pollution as a source of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). SIWI, in collaboration with the Swedish International Agricultural Initiative (SIANI), Nordea, Kommunal, and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) organised the conference session Antimicrobial resistance, putting sustainable development at risk – drivers, impacts, solutions.
The aim of this session was to present different perspectives of AMR’s environmental aspect, including: water insecurity in India resulting from pharmaceutical pollution, occupational risks for agri-food workers, and AMR’s threat to sustainable agriculture and food production in the global food chain. Methods to approach antimicrobial resistance were also discussed, such as industry’s role in controlling their supply chains and limiting pharmaceutical emissions into the environment, the need for research and development in advanced treatment technologies for waste water reuse, and manufacturers to include sustainability in their production practices to promote sustainable health systems. As well as industry’s role, international frameworks were also suggested as a tool to combat AMR: including environmental criteria in the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) to ensure product quality and limit harmful discharges into the environment, including AMR in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and introducing a collaborative "One health" approach to contain the urgent crisis posed by AMR.
In this session (attended by H.R.H. Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and Karolina Skog, Sweden’s Minister of Environment) HCWH Europe Pharmaceuticals Policy Officer, Dr. Adela Maghear spoke about the extensive role of health professionals in tackling all sources that lead to AMR. She emphasised the need for action at the international level and pointed out the crucial importance for the health professionals to take the lead and make a difference in how AMR is approached.

Sustainable Food

Sustainable report now available in Spanish

Health Care Without Harm Europe's latest food report: Fresh, healthy, and sustainable food: Best practices in European healthcare is now available in Spanish (see below).


Health Care Without Harm Europe (Salud Sin Daño Europa) publica su informe en español Alimentación fresca, saludable y sostenible: Buenas prácticas en el sector sanitario europeo. Este informe es hasta la fecha, el único informe que recoje algunas de las mejores experiencias y buenas prácticas en materia de alimentación saludable y sostenible en hospitales y sistemas de salud en Europa.

Salud Sin Daño Europa piensa que la alimentación es un componente central y esencial en nuestras vidas, ya que no sólo aporta nutrientes, sino que también juega un papel importante en la economía y la cultura de las personas. Además, los alimentos que producimos, consumimos y eliminamos tienen un impacto considerable sobre el medio ambiente y nuestra salud.

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The importance of sustainable food procurement in healthcare

Everyone needs to eat. Food is therefore a powerful tool to address systemic problems in our society, from health issues such as obesity to environmental concerns such as climate change and scarcity of resources. The way food is produced, purchased, prepared, and delivered impacts upon human health, the environment, and society at large. 

Hospitals and health systems can play a leading role in promoting sustainability throughout the food chain, not only for the well-being of patients and employees but also for the community by boosting the local economy.

Due to limited budgets and economic constraints, healthy, sustainable food with high quality nutrition has not had a primary role in the healthcare sector for many years. Despite some best practices around Europe, most hospitals are still purchasing and serving unhealthy and unappealing meals, potentially creating another problem: malnutrition, which afflicts more and more patients.

Patients should be offered a choice of fresh, local, organic, and seasonal produce, as well as culturally appropriate meals, to increase patients’ satisfaction and decrease food waste and malnutrition in the healthcare system. Redesigning menus is often a useful first step, but ultimately, sustainable procurement should be a main priority for hospitals and health systems. Patients and staff could also be provided with cooking classes and workshops which would provide advice on lifestyle changes and teach them about the health benefits of healthy food.

Most hospitals and healthcare institutions in Europe purchase their food through procurement centres, which negotiate contracts with suppliers and distributors based on competitiveness, volume, and price. Since the new EU Public Procurement Directive has been transposed into national legislation (2016), things are slowly changing and procurement centres now have to consider to green and social criteria. Increasingly institutions are seeking local procurement options and are starting to shorten their supply chain. They are also ensuring that local sustainable products have a viable market and local producers can expand and improve their operations, as well as employ new staff thus boosting the local economy. In order to move towards shorter supply chains hospitals have to change the way they procure food:

  • Buy directly from local farmers: engage in direct contracts
  • Align with other healthcare (or public) facilities to facilitate the provision of more sustainable local options, and reduce price/costs
  • Choose higher-quality ingredients in smaller amounts and reduce purchases of conventional, processed foods. Consider purchasing organic fruits and vegetables and antibiotic-free meat
  • Grow their own food and use gardening as a therapy for patients.
  • Compost their food waste
As well as changing procurement methods, hospitals can improve the sustainability of their food chains through improved service to patients, staff, and visitors...
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Member Update

Landspítali nominated for Nordic Council Environment Prize

The Nordic Council Environment Prize raises awareness of environmental work in the Nordic Region. it has been awarded since 1995, along with the Nordic Council’s other prizes. The prize goes to a company, organisation, or individual for exemplary efforts to integrate respect for the environment into their business or work.

HCWH Europe Member,
Landspítali, The National University Hospital of Iceland has been nominated for their work towards less waste, fewer single use items, recycling, and minimising food waste. Landspítali Hospital, the biggest employer in Iceland, has a highly ambitious environmental policy. The canteen has Nordic eco-label certification and it runs a popular transport scheme for its staff. The hospital is also a leader in waste sorting. In 2012–2016, it almost quadrupled its plastic recycling and doubled its organic recycling. It now recycles 8 times more paper than it did in 2012. In the immediate future, the hospital will continue to pursue its climate change targets and within a decade a new hospital will be designed and built from scratch based entirely on environmentally friendly principles. Through its holistic vision, Landspítali in Reykjavik sets environmental and public-health standards both for the health sector and for society in general.
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Other News

NurSus Toolkit Project

HCWH Europe was invited to participate in the launch event of the NurSus Toolkit, a new resource for education in sustainability. The aim of the NurSus project is to enhance the availability/relevance of a sound learning offer in Sustainability Literacy and Competency (SLC) in nurse education by developing innovative teaching and learning approaches and materials. Nurses work across borders; the availability of the NurSusTOOLKIT in multiple languages will promote coherency and support a framework for sustainability competencies across Europe.

The project objectives are to:
  1. Develop a detailed evidence-based resource on sustainability, climate change and health
  2. Identify examples of good practice and opportunities for integrating sustainability into the nursing curricula
  3. Develop and agree a Sustainability Literacy and Competency (SLC) framework linked to professional profiles within nursing
  4. Design a SLC education programme with common e-modules and a variety of teaching and learning strategies/materials.
  5. Test and implement innovative approaches and facilitate recognition and certification of skills and competences in sustainability and nursing.
  6. Produce on-line teaching materials (NurSusTOOLKIT) linked to the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS).
  7. Disseminate outputs and promote uptake of the NurSusTOOLKIT
The materials are all available online, for free on the NurSus website; currently available in English, French, Dutch, German, Spanish and soon in Polish.

Learn more about sustainability in Nursing with this video from Plymouth University, UK
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