The health care sector can work to reduce the harmful impacts of transport to and from its facilities by locating near public transportation lines, launching telemedicine initiatives, and developing energy-efficient fleets of vehicles.
Transportation is a major source of air pollution throughout the world, particularly in urban areas. Exposure to air pollutants can cause respiratory illnesses and increases in emergency room visits. Rising ground level ozone levels are also linked to higher temperatures in urban areas.
In developing country mega-cities, air pollution from transportation is a major health problem. In Delhi, the transport sector accounts for over 70 percent of all air pollution. A World Bank study found that the total social cost of air pollution in the cities of Mumbai, Shanghai, Manila, Bangkok, Krakow and Santiago, was as high as U.S. $2.6 billion.
Meanwhile, road transport contributes 18 percent of the world’s total CO2 emissions from fuel combustion; by 2030, these are projected to rise another 60 percent, mainly in developing regions, including China, India, and Southeast Asia.
The health sector -- with its fleets of ambulances, hospital vehicles, delivery vehicles, and staff and patient travel -- is a transportation-intensive industry. Air pollution impacts from health care are concentrated near large-scale hospital facilities.
In many areas, hospitals are now being located near public transportation hubs in order to reduce the burden of pollution, and other harmful effects.
In addition, telemedicine is a promising strategy for reducing transportation-related emissions. As the WHO notes, “well-designed telehealth schemes can …reduce the travel-related carbon footprint of health care, while improving access and outcomes for vulnerable groups. Simple mobile phone applications supporting emergency assistance and long distance consultation with health-care workers in remote areas are being used in many developing countries with good results.”
Shifting to hybrid technologies, all-electric vehicles, as well as compressed natural gas or some bio-fuels also have the potential to reduce emissions for fleet vehicles such as ambulances and vans. Encouraging hospital staff and patients to use bicycles, public transportation and carpools can also help.
Supply chain transportation impacts are significant as well. The U.K. National Health Service estimates that 60 percent of their carbon footprint is related to supply chain decisions. Purchasing from local suppliers or/and suppliers who use fuel-efficient transportation can all have positive impacts. Waste should also be treated or disposed of as close as possible to where it is generated.