Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) is an international nongovernmental organization (NGO) that works to transform health care worldwide so that it reduces its environmental footprint, becomes a community anchor for sustainability, and a leader in the global movement for environmental health and justice.
With regional offices on four continents, partners around the world, and global and regional initiatives, HCWH is leading the global sustainable health care movement.
HCWH’s areas of work include sustainable healthcare waste management, green building, the substitution of hazardous chemicals used in hospitals with safer alternatives, reducing health care’s climate footprint and working with the health sector to advocate for a healthy climate.
Health Care Without Harm comprises:
- Four regional offices (based in Buenos Aires, Brussels, Manila, and Washington, DC) that develop regional work and initiatives in Latin America, Europe, South East Asia, and the United States, respectively. A Global staff also facilitate programs with global impact, including (but not limited to) Global Green and Healthy Hospitals - a worldwide network of hospitals and health systems acting together for environmental health.
- Strategic partners that represent our interests and lead the development and implementation of HCWH-related work in Australia, Brazil, China, India, Nepal, and South Africa. Practice Greenhealth, a nonprofit health care sustainability membership organization, and Greenhealth Exchange, a green purchasing cooperative, both based in the United States.
"First Do No Harm" ... Together with our partners around the world, Health Care Without Harm shares a vision of a health care sector that does no harm, and instead promotes the health of people and the environment. To that end, we are working to implement ecologically sound and healthy alternatives to health care practices that pollute the environment and contribute to disease.
For example, the incineration of medical waste is a leading source of dangerous air pollutants such as dioxin and mercury, and the use of hazardous chemicals indoors may contribute to the high rates of asthma among health care workers. The huge scale of the health care sector worldwide means that unhealthy practices — such as poor waste management, use of toxic chemicals, unhealthy food choices and reliance on polluting technologies — have a major negative impact on the health of humans and the environment.
The good news is that the health care sector can play a leading role in solving these problems. Due to its massive buying power, and its mission-driven interest in preventing disease, the health care sector can help shift the entire economy toward sustainable, safer products and practices.
Health Care Without Harm is at the center of this work to transform the health care sector worldwide, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment.
Health Care Without Harm began in 1996 after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified medical waste incineration as the leading source of dioxin, one of the most potent carcinogens.
In response to this serious problem, 28 organizations came together in Bolinas, California to form the coalition Health Care Without Harm (HCWH). Since then, HCWH has grown into a broad-based international coalition of hundreds of organizations in 52 countries, with offices in Arlington, VA, Brussels, Buenos Aires and Manila.
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Over the last two decades, Health Care Without Harm has had a significant impact on the health sector by working with health professionals, hospitals, major health systems, ministries of health and UN organizations to reduce the sector’s environmental footprint and mobilize it as an advocate for environmental health and justice. Our successes include:
- Starting with one hospital in Boston in 1996, and scaling the effort across the globe years, HCWH and its partners waged a successful 15 year campaign to phase out mercury based-medical devices and substitute them with safe, affordable, accurate alternatives. As a result, we have virtually eliminated the market for mercury-based medical devices in the United States, achieved a ban mercury thermometers and blood pressure devices in the European Union, and secured national or provincial phase in countries such as Argentina, Chile and Brazil to the Philippines, South Africa and Nepal, while working with thousands of other hospitals across the world to switch to safer alternatives. This global organizing, undertaken in collaboration with the World Health Organization and others, succeeded in securing language in an international treaty, the Mimamata Convention, that mandates the phase-out of mercury thermometers and blood pressure devices by 2020.
Health Care Waste Management
- HCWH was an architect of and a Principle Cooperating Agency, together with the World Health Organization (WHO), for an eight country Global Environment Facility Project on sustainable health care waste management executed by UNDP. The successful project resulted in improved health care waste management practices in project countries, and a series of technical guidance materials that are supporting similar efforts elsewhere, including in several similar multi-country UNDP-led projects that HCWH is now participating in.
- HCWH worked with our Strategic Partner, Health Care Foundation of Nepal to foster sustainable health care waste management systems that reduce waste, avoid incineration, and help build a recycling economy that supports the program. This approach is now scaling across the country.
- HCWH co-authored the Blue Book, WHO’s guidance for all governments on health care waste management and serves as a leading authority on sustainable health care waste management in international policy fora.
- In recent years, HCWH has established itself as a world leader on climate change and health. We organized the first Global Climate and Health Summit at COP17 in Durban, South Africa; helped establish an international coalition of health organizations, the Global Climate and Health Alliance; and co-authored with WHO a ground breaking discussion document on how health care can become more climate smart—all in 2011. Since then, HCWH has focused on embedding a low carbon framework based on mitigation, resilience and leadership strategies in hospitals, health systems and international health organizations and financial institutions around the world. We have developed measurement tools, case studies and a framework -the 2020 Challenge- that can help hospitals and health systems measurably more toward low-carbon health care delivery. And we have convened health care leaders to develop shared strategies at several global fora, including the Paris Climate Conference.
- HCWH’s Healthy Energy Initiative has helped educate and mobilize Health sector leaders in seven countries to advocate for a move away from fossil-fuel based energy development, particularly coal, and towards clean, renewable energy options.
Building a Global Organization and Network
- While HCWH started in the U.S. in 1996, it quickly spread around the world. Over the last twenty years, we have created a deep well of expertise and helped generate a worldwide health care movement for environmental sustainability. We now have offices in four continents, strategic partner organizations in several other countries, and a global coordination team- all brimming with committed staff people dedicated to achieving our mission.
- It is not only staff people that make up HCWH. Since 2011, we have been busy building a worldwide network called Global Green and Healthy Hospitals (GGHH) whose membership now includes organizations representing over 31,000 hospitals in 49 countries. GGHH is based on a comprehensive framework for moving the sector toward more environmentally sustainable healthcare and fostering leadership for environmental health. GGHH has published a series of guidance documents and dozens of case studies from around the world, while building global online collaboration platform that allows members to collaborate, crowd source solutions and measure progress as we all move together to help make this planet a healthier place to live.