2020 was a year like no other. The world was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and the set of challenges we face have given us a clear example of what a multidimensional crisis on a planetary scale can look like. Among other aspects, the pandemic made evident the centrality of health and the health sector as a frontline responder and highlighted the profound inequalities in health and health care access within and between countries.
As COVID-19 progressed, the health systems’ impact on human and planetary health has increased resulting in an equally increased need to procure health care commodities. This created an unprecedented challenge to health care waste management across the globe, a process that has ripple effects in many regions of the world, especially in developing nations, as well as in the majority of Sustainable Health in Procurement Project (SHiPP) countries. As the number of patients needing health care exploded, managing massive health care waste became a challenge.
While there has been an urgent call for medical commodities to be delivered to all corners of the world, there’s still a significant need to ensure the upholding of sustainable standards and dimensions. In response to COVID-19, health systems are rethinking their supply chains, and the opportunity to integrate future pandemic preparedness with principles of climate resilience, adaptation, mitigation, and sustainability arises.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, SHiPP activities in 2020 resulted in a number of knowledge products developed to provide standard operating procedures for SHiPP countries and others. UNDP and Health Care Without Harm published several guidance documents, as well as global frameworks for countries to support pandemic responses. UNDP developed a guidance note for COVID-19 health care waste management which was disseminated through UNDP’s network of 140 country offices. Health Care Without Harm published guidance on safer disinfectants, the sound management of COVID-19 waste, and organised a series of partner discussions on safe handling of COVID-19 related health care waste.
This unique collaboration between UNDP and civil society yielded two guidance documents on the integration of sustainability into health procurement activities: the UNDP Sustainable Procurement Guidance Note and Health Care Without Harm’s Sustainable Procurement Guide for Health Care. The guides aim at improving access to quality health products through capacity building on environmental, social, and ethical considerations, and documenting good practices of market-shaping capabilities for transformation through decoupling activities. All these resources are freely available for health care systems and organizations to use, and provide useful guidelines and tools for market transformation, and for sustainable, environmentally friendly health care.
2020 was also characterized by an intense implementation of several other planned interventions, including the Third Saving Lives Sustainably: Global Forum 2020. The Forum, which took place as a part of the G20 International Conferences Programme, focussed on the intersection between climate change and global health, and the necessary transitions needed for a sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, sustainable procurement policies and strategies were developed during the year in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, India, Moldova, South Africa, Tanzania and Viet Nam.
UNDP and Health Care Without Harm, partners in the implementation of SHiPP, are proud to share the SHiPP 2020 Annual Report, which demonstrates the importance of collaboration on sustainability to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The report describes how SHiPP responded to one of the most daunting pandemics in history, by introducing methods to deliver critical health services while producing less waste, using less resources, and reducing the negative impacts on the environment and human health.
The COVID-19 has shown that ending the pandemic will require global, regional, and national collaboration efforts. Scaling integrated equitable development solutions, for a fair sustainable future recovery, are critically important. UNDP and Health Care Without Harm are moving forward together in 2021 to implement the Sustainable Procurement Index in Health (SPIH) in order to support health systems to embed sustainability into the procurement of essential health products and services, as well as prevent and treat COVID-19 and prepare for future pandemics. Recovery policies and practices will need to trigger investment and behavioural changes that will reduce the likelihood of future shocks and increase countries’ resilience in “building forward better”, including aligning with long-term emission reduction goals, factoring in resilience to climate impacts, slowing biodiversity loss and increasing circularity of supply chains.
The combat against COVID-19 is not over. That is why we are convinced that sustainable procurement can drive global green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. No one is safe until everyone is safe.
Dr. Rosemary Kumwenda, Team Leader of the Health Group, UNDP Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and SPHS Coordinator
Susan Wilburn, International sustainability director, Health Care Without Harm