28 Jan 2010

Leaders in Healthcare

Your Excellencies,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning. I am happy to be speaking, for the fourth year in a row, at Leaders in Healthcare. It is a privilege to be among so many distinguished members of the medical community.

The topic of today's conference is sustainable healthcare systems, but if I may ask, “What does sustainability in healthcare mean?”

I am sure each of you would have a different answer.

Yes, it means sustainable use of resources, especially energy, but it is much more than that. To me, development is only sustainable if communities are involved and they take responsibility for the choices they make.

Visitors to Dubai are always commenting on the magnificent skyline.

No doubt, Burj Khalifa is impressive, but we are equally proud of the human infrastructure - the community - HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has assembled here. They have transformed the desert to realize the dream that is Dubai today.

If we want to see sustainable development in the health sector, we as members of the medical community must also be personally involved and take responsibility for the choices we make.

What have we done - or failed to do - in teaching our children about proper nutrition and exercise? If we want to address the explosion in non-communicable disease in our region, is there a better place to start?

Yes, there are hereditary factors in many of these diseases, but behavior and education are key. More and more research is telling us that food is medicine, exercise is medicine.

We cannot ignore that.

True, prevention does not generate much in the way of immediate short- term profit. But unless we have long-term vision, unless we invest in prevention, we will soon be overwhelmed by the level of diabetes, heart disease and other non-communicable diseases.

Half the Arab population is under 25 and we are facing an explosion in obesity. Where will that lead? Will we, the medical community, be able to cope with the consequences?

We cannot have healthy people on a sick planet.

While nations and communities must take responsibility for their own healthcare - especially in areas like prevention, there are also larger forces at play.

The worsening condition of our global environment is, of course, beginning to affect the health of millions of people around the world.

In developing countries, 20 per cent of the loss in life expectancy is attributed to environmental causes.

Pollution, lack of safe water, and poor sanitation are directly responsible for 3% of all deaths worldwide.

Already today, Kofi Annan's Global Humanitarian Forum estimates that hundreds of thousands of lives are lost due to climate change. Over nine in ten are related to gradual environmental degradation - principally malnutrition, diarrhea, malaria, with the remaining deaths linked to weather-related disasters.

Today, climate change has caused global economic losses of more than $100 billion, forcing some 50 million people to go hungry and driving 10 million into extreme poverty.

The populations most at risk are those in the semi-arid dry lands from the Sahara to the Middle East and Central Asia, plus sub-Saharan Africa, small island nations and parts of South Asia.

These are realities we cannot hide from.

Climate change must be addressed as a humanitarian emergency.

But you ask how? The negotiations in Copenhagen last month gave us little hope for a binding international agreement. I go back to my point about communities taking responsibility.

HH Sheikh Mohammed did not wait for Copenhagen when he mandated that all new buildings in Dubai adopt green standards for construction and energy use in 2008.

The UAE has taken the lead in the Middle East and has become the first to move to “green building”.

Changing the way we build, changes how we, as humans, live.

We in the health community should change how we build - both to be environmentally sustainable and promote the healing process itself.

Hospitals are one of the largest consumers of energy in the world today. They use twice as much energy per square foot as office buildings and generate millions and millions of tons of waste per year.

According to the Wall Street Journal, and I quote, hospitals have “inadvertently contributed to illness and pollution by exposing staff and patients to a witch's brew of toxins" -- including building materials that release chemicals into the air, medical waste, hospital supplies and cleaning products.”

If the earth's ecosystem is to continue to support us, we need to preserve public health and provide health care in ways that will sustain our environment.

The World Health Organization recognizes that healthcare benefits can be achieved by reducing the industry's environmental impact, citing basic measures “from improving hospital design to reducing and sustainably managing waste, using safer chemicals, sustainably using resources such as water and energy, and purchasing environmentally-friendly products.”

Adopting green technology in healthcare improves air, thermal and acoustic environments, enhances patient comfort and health, minimizes strain on local infrastructure and contributes to overall quality of life.

The idea that green buildings will make the world a better place to live is rapidly gaining global popularity in the healthcare industry…and even more so, in the United Arab Emirates.

Dubai's first dedicated children's hospital, upon completion in 2012, will be a living example of a sustainable health care system.

The first ever in the Middle East.

The Al Jalila Children's Specialty Hospital is an initiative launched by HH Sheikh Mohammed and will soon be home to centres of excellence for cardiology, oncology, neurology and mental health.

The energy saving strategies for the hospital building have been achieved using different construction solutions which will sensibly reduce overall energy consumption.

The active wall façade system will provide solar shading, natural ventilation, and reduce external noise.

Sunlight will fill patient rooms and healing gardens will be planted that use recycled water and provide insulation.

On the roof of the hospital, more than 5,000 square meters of solar panels will provide enough energy to satisfy the autonomy of certain systems of the hospital.

The newly developed wastewater system will directly treat and purify wastewater before it ever reaches the sewage plant.

In defining the architecture of the 21st century, the Al Jalila Children's Specialty Hospital will also redefine the healing process.

Designed to promote balance and harmony for the children and their families, the hospital will apply a holistic, integrated approach to healing.

Patients will actively participate in their treatment and health care because that is what is important…treating the person, not only the disease.

Finding sustainable, green solutions to the health challenges we face is as much about people as technology.

We need the medical community to help lead just as it did in eradicating smallpox and polio. And why not?

In healing our planet, we heal ourselves.