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Education for Sustainable Healthcare

JI profile_20211013 (1)

Chair: James Irlam

(University of Cape Town)


Abigail Dreyer
(University of the Witwatersrand)

Dr Gérard Filies
(University of the Western Cape)

Prof Poovendhree Reddy
(Durban University of Technology)


vision and mission

The Vision of this SIG is a cohort of health professional educators in South African faculties of health sciences with the knowledge, skills, and values to equip future health professionals as agents of change for sustainable healthcare in a rapidly changing context of environmental health. The Mission of the SIG is therefore to create a community of ESH practice for sharing ideas and resources for teaching and learning with health professional educators in South African faculties of health sciences.


Education for Sustainable Healthcare (ESH), has been defined as the organization of health professions education to develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes about the interdependence of human health and planetary ecosystems, including the effects of rapid climate and environmental changes on health, and conversely, the environmental impacts of health systems (Shaw et al. 2021).

Global climate change is widely recognised as a growing global health threat and amplifier of environmental risks to health. However, it is also a significant public health opportunity to urgently realise the huge co-benefits from mitigating and adapting to climate change, while simultaneously addressing the environmental determinants of health (Whitmee, Haines et al. 2015). Health professionals should therefore be framing climate change as a public health opportunity and taking the lead in protecting public health from global environmental change, especially given the public trust that they generally enjoy. This includes minimising the massive environmental impact of health systems, from energy and water use to toxic and plastic waste.

South Africa is a significant emitter of global-warming greenhouse gases and is also a highly climate-vulnerable country due to water shortages, a high burden of disease, endemic poverty, and deep inequalities. Our climate policies and plans recognise the need for more capacity in climate change awareness and adaptation. Furthermore, the Global Road Map for Health Care Decarbonization, which details the considerable climate impacts and mitigation potential of the healthcare sector, urges health professionals to be trained as leaders for rapid climate action and sustainable healthcare (Karliner 2021).  

The need for ESH in South Africa is consistent with calls for health professionals to be more socially and environmentally accountable. The 2018 Consensus Report of the Academy of Science of South Africa (

Reconceptualising of Health Professionals in South Africa

), for example, acknowledges threats to national health security from emerging environmental risks in a context of rapid demographic and epidemiological changes (ASSAf 2018).


 Activities include webinars with national and international speakers; regular member communication to share ESH news and resources; and support for national curriculum development in ESH.

Proposed activities for 2024-25 include:

  1. a follow-up meeting to our SAAHE 2024 conference workshop on Planetary Health to evaluate the outcomes and further needs of participants (Irlam, 2024)
  2. continual promotion of the Planetary Health Report Card for assessing curricular integration of Planetary Health and Sustainable Healthcare in South African faculties of health sciences (PHRC)


Figure: Relationship between planetary health, indigenous ecological perspectives, and the knowledge, values, and practices of education for sustainable healthcare


ASSAf (2018). Reconceptualising health professions education in South Africa.

Irlam, J, Reid, S and Rother, H-A Education about Planetary Health and Sustainable Healthcare in low- and middle-income countries: Planetary Health Report Card assessment of perceptions at University of Cape Town Faculty of Health Sciences. Education for health 2024; 37(1): 8-19. 10.62694/efh.2024.17

Karliner, J., Roschnik, S., Boyd, R., Ashby, B., & Steele, K. (2021). Global road map for health care decarbonization. A navigational tool for achieving zero emissions with climate resilience and health equity. Health Care Without Harm and Arup.

Shaw, E, Walpole, S, McLean, M, et al. AMEE Consensus Statement: Planetary health and education for sustainable healthcare. Medical teacher 2021; 43(3): 272-286. 10.1080/0142159X.2020.1860207Whitmee, S, Haines, A, Beyrer, C, et al. Safeguarding human health in the Anthropocene epoch: Report of the Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission on planetary health. The Lancet 2015; 386(10007): 1973-2028. 10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60901-1

To join any of our SIG’s and obtain SAAHE membership, please complete the membership form