Salus journal

Healthy Planet. Healthy People.

Healthcare / Planetary health

Global network calls for COVID-19 recovery based on healthy people and planet

By Andrew Sansom 28 Aug 2020 0

The Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Global Network has issued a statement that reflects the emerging movement for health and environmental issues to become part of the broader social agendas for global structural change necessary at this critical time in the planet’s history.

HCWH describes the world as at a crossroads, where one path props up old structures and systems that themselves led to the COVID-19 pandemic and intertwined social, economic and political crises; the other route, it says, involves forging a just transition to equitable, resilient societies that provide decent work for all, universal healthcare, and contribute to a healthy climate. 

“For our civilization to survive and thrive, we must choose this second path and change systems that place profit over ecological sustainability, health, and wellbeing,” proclaims the statement. “We must build structures that benefit all people, especially the vulnerable and the poor. As part of this effort, we must recognise and address the political, social and economic factors that govern how health or illnesses move through our communities. As many around the world rise up against systemic racism and discrimination, we must also forge a broad, interconnected agenda for change that fosters health equity, ecological sustainability and social justice.”


Firstly, the statement calls on the healthcare sector to lead by adopting a ‘Health in All Policies’ approach. This, it says, can help reduce the prevalence of both pandemics and environmental harm, mitigate their negative impacts, and, in collaboration with other sectors of society, forge a more equal world. Urging health workers to assume the role of messengers of change, it encourages professionals to speak out to patients, colleagues, the media, and policy makers at all levels on the connections between COVID-19, climate change, environmental health and justice. And the statement also calls for direct health leadership to address climate change by developing resilient infrastructure and decarbonising the sector’s own facilities and supply chain.

Systems change

Systems change is another crucial area where action is required, says HCWH. The organisation champions the forging of systems change to regenerate the global economy based on sustainable production and consumption, and a fair society based on human rights, community resilience, disease prevention, and planetary health. It also calls for green economies to be built by establishing a pipeline of projects that create secure, healthy, sustainable jobs and lead to a cleaner, healthier, safer and more just world.

The pandemic has also demonstrated the importance of investing in universal health coverage and strengthening health systems, asserts the statement, adding: “Healthcare reform that moves away from a privatised health model and generates significant future investment in strengthening public health systems is necessary in many countries.”

Such strengthening, it says, should focus on community engagement and participation, including building collaboration between hospitals and community-based organisations, as well as supporting healthcare workers. 

Green recovery

As governments push through unprecedented economic stimulus investments to respond to the severe economic fallout caused by the pandemic, HCWH calls on the healthcare sector to oppose efforts by the fossil fuel and other polluting industries to roll back environmental controls and capture these resources. Rather, it wants to see investment going towards a rapid transition to clean, renewable energy, and sustainable transport systems based on principles of equity and justice.

Significant investment in basic infrastructure for safe and hygienic sanitation, running water in health facilities, and sustainable healthcare waste management can build both pandemic and climate resilience, says the statement.

And there is also a demand that public funds be redirected away from industrial agriculture to rural communities and regenerative agroecology. Ecosystem-based approaches and transformative changes in land and agriculture sectors are crucial, says HCWH, to build resilience, reduce carbon emissions, and limit the risk of future pandemics. 

The Health Care Without Harm Global Network is composed of regional offices in Europe, South East Asia, and the United States / Canada; a Latin America regional team; strategic partner organisations in Australia, Brazil, China, India, Nepal, and South Africa; as well as a global secretariat. 

The full statement can be found here.