Hisham El-Ansary – Exploring the Nexus of Climate Change, Human Health, and Healthcare System Sustainability
Speech given by Bupa APAC CEO Hisham-El-Ansary.
Thank you, Yvonne and good afternoon everyone.
I also want to thank Professor Braithwaite and the team at the NHMRC Partnership Centre for Health System Sustainability. We are proud to have supported your work over a number of years now through the Bupa Foundation and congratulate you on the significant difference you have made across so many important issues that we are grappling with as a sector.
It’s a great honor for Bupa, and for me personally as a business leader, to be discussing this topic alongside such an esteemed group of academics and health experts today.
Bupa is a health and care company that employs over 85,000 people worldwide.
We have more than 18,000 people here in Australia - in our aged care homes, retail stores, dental, medical and optical clinics as well as corporate officers all around the country.
We deliver services to some five million Australian customers.
In this market we are both a funder and a provider of healthcare, which perhaps gives us a unique perspective on a range of topics relevant to our sector.
Across our diverse business, our role remains the same - we help people get the health and care they need every day, in many different ways.
Our purpose is to help people live longer, healthier and happier lives, and make a better world.
And as a purpose-driven company, we are focused on the link between the health of our planet and the health of its people.
This is the concept we refer to as OneHealth.
The World Health Organisation has called Climate Change the single biggest threat to human health of our time.
It’s a “Code Red” for humanity as they are now saying.
I won’t labor the facts and figures, as thankfully they are becoming part of our common understanding.
But there are a few key insights that bring to life why this is such an important issue us all:
- The WHO estimate that nearly 13 million people die each year from environmentally-related health risks.
- A shocking 90% of the world’s population breathe polluted air.
- In 2020, one in four people lacked access to safely managed drinking water in their homes
- And more than 2 billion did not have access to enough safe and nutritious food.
These stats can seem a bit abstract in a well-developed economy such as ours, but the health impacts of climate change are very real for Australians too.
For example, The Lancet recently outlined how heat harms Australians’ health. It kills more Australians than bushfires, storms, and floods combined. It exacerbates common chronic diseases; and drives patients into emergency departments.
These health impacts can be acute and chronic, and they affect both our physical and mental wellbeing. Tragically, we have seen too many examples of this in recent times.
And as we know, current trajectories on climate change, and biodiversity loss for that matter, will have catastrophic consequences for the systems that sustain life and health globally.
Without healthy planetary systems, such as fresh water, clean air, and stable and predictable weather, it is not possible to protect nor advance human health.
For all these reasons, concern is intensifying amongst our sector…. the health presence at COP26 was the biggest ever at the UN climate negotiations.
This is because we know now, that without deliberate and concerted action, we can expect the impact of climate change on our health system to increase, with more hospital admissions, doctors’ visits and medical usage.
As the largest non-government funder of health care in Australia, health insurers focus a great deal on sustainable health systems and the delivery of high value care.
At Bupa, we are also acutely aware of how increased heat, extreme weather events, not to mention pandemics will impact our people, customers and communities in which we operate.
For all these reasons, Bupa has an important role to play in advocating for awareness and change… and there is of course much work to do.
Alongside health organisations from around the world (representing 45 million health professionals), Bupa has signed the Healthy Climate Prescription Letter calling on governments and policy makers to act with urgency on the current climate and health crisis.
We’ve committed to the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTI’s) and joined the UN’s Race to Zero.
But advocacy efforts are hollow without genuine change and this is where we hope to be able to lead with action.
I want to touch on a few examples of that.
First, we are focused on reducing carbon emissions in our business and across the health system more broadly.
Because we know the Health Sector is a big contributor of carbon emissions. In Australia, healthcare produces around 7% of the nation’s annual carbon emissions. And, if the global health sector were a country, it would be the fifth‐largest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet.
This is where our business can help to influence change both locally and globally.
We’ve set public targets across Scopes 1, 2 and 3 as part of the SBTI, towards Net Zero for Bupa globally by 2040.
This includes a target to reduce our direct carbon emissions by 40% globally by 2025, including an anticipated 69% reduction across Australia and New Zealand through renewable energy purchasing and other direct initiatives.
Scope 3 represents some 98% of our footprint and we intend to work directly with our suppliers, partners and providers across the healthcare sector to decarbonise over the coming years.
This will require imagination, partnership and in some ways, a transformation of the way we deliver health care.
It is something we should all be focused on, especially with studies showing up to 40% of healthcare in Australia provides little to no benefit for patients in healthcare settings such as hospitals, which are energy hungry.
But we know transformation is possible. We witnessed good adoption of telehealth during COVID. The ABS’s recent Patient Experience Survey reported that over a quarter of Australians (28.8%) had at least one telehealth consultation in the past 12 months. Over 83% of those surveyed agreed they would use telehealth again if it was offered.
This fundamentally alters consumer expectations around the delivery of health care in the future.
This has also showed that in certain circumstances, healthcare delivered remotely can be good and, in some cases better, for both patient care and sustainable health systems.
These are the types of ideas and solutions we want to pursue in collaboration with our sector peers. Indeed, last month we launched a new Telehealth business called Blua.
We are making the concept of OneHealth integral to our business. We are exploring how to reconfigure our products, services, and facilities to align them with better outcomes for our planet and people. This includes making our retail stores, dental practices, corporate offices, and aged care homes more sustainable.
For our customers, we will aim to introduce incentives through our products and services to minimise our environmental impact – like telehealth, greater use of climate friendly health providers and by engaging our customers to take action themselves.
We are also empowering our people to innovate for sustainability. This year, we launched Bupa’s inaugural eco-Disruptive program.
This program sees our teams’ partner with innovative start-ups and social enterprises to help solve planetary health problems aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
It’s serious business for us with a $350,000 prize for the start-up in the winning team across Bupa globally. All up, we will invest well over a $1m in the program.
What I have loved about Eco-Disruptive is that it has unleashed new energy amongst our people – and empowered them to innovate and make decisions that support sustainability.
It’s also shown the value of large corporates working with start-ups on tangible sustainability solutions – we have both learned from each other and hopefully sped up the pace of change.
This is exactly the type of collaboration we want to do more of.
To that end, we have recently invested nearly $1m to pilot new community partnerships focused on health and sustainability across the Asia Pacific region. Small amounts invested locally have a narrow but deep impact on local communities.
For example, we are working with UNICEF Australia to develop a blueprint of what truly healthy and sustainable cities and towns should look like, for our children and for future generations.
We are also working with Conservation Volunteers Australia to help build a community of one million nature stewards who understand the concept of OneHealth and are activated to support planet and people health.
We have similar projects running in our Hong Kong and New Zealand markets.
So in conclusion, we see that advocacy, innovation, collaboration, partnerships and most importantly action will be critical if we are to advance the concept of OneHealth and create more sustainable healthcare systems.
In many ways, this will be a new approach for our sector. But collectively we are well-placed to drive change that will lead to better long-term health for people everywhere.
I know this is something we are all deeply committed to and I look forward to discussing these issues with you this afternoon.