Healthcare needs stakeholder support to hit sustainable goals

March 10, 2023 | 11:12
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The healthcare sector is making efforts to implement solutions towards sustainable development. Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Thi Lien Huong discussed with VIR’s Bich Thuy the action plans to achieve net-zero commitments by 2050.

What have been the highlights in the implementation of sustainable development goals in the health sector and what is up ahead?

Healthcare needs stakeholder support to hit sustainable goals
Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Thi Lien Huong

In 2022, the sector achieved and exceeded many targets and tasks set out for the year: reducing the rate of children under 5 suffering from malnutrition to 19 per cent (the target was 20.4 per cent); the percentage of health stations in communes, wards, and townships with doctors working is 94 per cent; the number of hospital beds per 10,000 people is about 30.5 beds (the target was 29.5), and more besides.

The healthcare sector has also implemented synchronous solutions to reduce maternal and infant mortality, especially in remote and isolated areas.

The quality of medical examination and treatment continues to be maintained, while promoting the application of IT in hospitals and at grassroots health facilities, building communal health management software, and forming a platform for managing, connecting and sharing medical data.

A telemedicine network has been formed. This network has connected central hospitals to provincial ones and to district health centres. AI and robotics applications have also been deployed in healthcare.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have now become a cross-cutting goal in national, sectoral, and sectoral strategies and policies.

Vietnam has made many achievements in sustainable poverty reduction through coverage of essential health services. It has also gained success in healthcare, and successfully implemented some Millennium Development Goals such as the fastest reduction in maternal and child mortality rates in the world; a strong decrease in child malnutrition rate; and an increase in average life expectancy.

However, Vietnam is also facing an increase in non-communicable diseases, which account for over 75 per cent of deaths in our country.

Therefore, the Ministry of Health will implement policies to support primary healthcare through the plan to build and develop the grassroots health network and national health/population target programmes to better protect and improve people’s health.

For sustainable development, the health sector will continue to implement SDGs related to health and focus on key issues with development partners such as population ageing, financial mechanism innovation, basic health service packages, medical service price adjustments, investing in development of preventive health, and more.

Moreover, the health sector will also implement technology policies and solutions to promote the model of a green hospital, reduce energy and water consumption, and reduce emissions of CO2 and other harmful gases in the exam and treatment process to the environment, while treating wastewater generated during such services before being discharged into the environment.

A number of ministries and agencies have been working on action plans to implement Vietnam’s net-zero commitments. How does the healthcare sector do this?

Climate change is a serious global challenge, and Vietnam is one of the developing countries most heavily affected by the impact.

According to the World Health Organization, activities in health facilities contribute about 3-8 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, mainly from energy use activities, waste treatment, fabric handling, food processing, and pharmaceuticals at medical facilities.

In 2019, the Ministry of Health issued an action plan to respond to climate change in the health sector for 2019-2030, with a vision to 2050.

At the same time, the health department of provinces and cities have also issued plans to respond to climate change, including activities to promote the application of green and environmentally friendly technologies in waste treatment and energy supply in medical facilities, aiming to completely reduce emissions from these activities.

At the same time, the health sector is also strengthening hospital air environment monitoring. It is expected to provide programmes to raise the awareness of managers and health workers about the importance of this issue, as well as develop a specific roadmap to reduce carbon emissions.

What are the challenges facing the health sector in implementing Vietnam’s commitments?

It is believed that around 73 per cent of carbon emissions in Vietnam comes from the energy sector, so the speed of energy transition to clean sources will play an important role in Vietnam’s carbon emission reduction. The energy transition needs to continue to be deeply implemented not only in the energy sector but also in other sectors including healthcare, transportation, industry, construction, and agriculture.

Globally, the healthcare sector contributes 4.6 per cent of GHG emissions. This means that energy demand will have a strong shift from petrol, oil, coal to electricity, solar, gas, and new forms of energy.

Vietnam’s health sector is facing many difficulties. The sector still does not have a lot of experience and skills to apply green technologies, as well as a lack of resources to develop and implement projects to improve energy efficiency and use of renewable and environmentally friendly resources and to scale these initiatives across the country.

Lessons learned from other countries show that improving the management of medical waste is essential. For example, using advanced technology solutions to replace traditional medical waste incinerators to improve energy efficiency.

There needs to have a mechanism and policies to encourage the use of more renewables. In addition, green procurement is also an important solution and must be applied more widely.

The path to net-zero should be led by science and technology, strengthening international cooperation, and public-private partnerships. Development partners with financial capabilities, technology, and expertise can support Vietnam’s health sector in this transition.

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