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Education for Sustainable Healthcare

JI profile_20211013 (1)

Chair: James Irlam

(University of Cape Town)

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 (Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2020, Shaw, Walpole et al. 2020).


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, which has been so evident during the COVID-19 pandemic (Karliner 2020).

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 (South Africa: Department of Environment Forestry and Fisheries 2019, South Africa: Department of Health 2019, Public Health Association of South Africa; South African Medical Association 2021). Furthermore, the 2021 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 (Health Care Without Harm 2021).  

Key lessons from international ESH practice to date are presented by the Association for Medical Education in Europe (AMEE) in their 2020 Consensus Statement on Planetary Health and Education for Sustainable Healthcare (Shaw, Walpole et al. 2020). The Statement asserts that health professionals must deliver system-wide changes to address the crisis, and that faculty development, eco-ethical leadership and planetary health action across disciplines are urgently needed.

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 infectious, environmental, and behavioural risks in a context of rapid demographic and epidemiological changes (ASSAf 2018).

proposed activities

Quarterly webinars on ESH topics with national and international speakers; weekly member communication via email and social media to share news, resources, and network contacts; a national curriculum audit of ESH in faculties of health sciences; a Delphi panel to achieve consensus on key learning objectives, activities, facilitators, and barriers to ESH practice in South Africa.

Our proposed activities for 2022-2023 (more to follow):

  1. a train-the-trainer webinar on ideas of integrating Education for Sustainable Healthcare into modules
  2. a follow-up meeting to our conference workshop with the IPE SIG (Integrating Planetary Health and Environmental Sustainability into Health Professions Education and Practice in South Africa) to evaluate the outcomes and further needs of participants
  1.                                                        ESH SIG Executive (2021-2024)
James Irlam (Convener)Division of Environmental Health/ Primary Health Care Directorate; Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape
Abigail DreyerDepartment of Family Medicine, Division of Rural Health; University of
Dr Gérard FiliesInterprofessional Education Unit ( IPEU), Faculty of Community & Health Sciences,  University of the Western
Prof Poovendhree Reddy Department Community Health Studies, Durban University of Technology


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


SIG recordings

Watch the recording on Case studies from the coalface: Education for Sustainable Healthcare (ESH) in southern Africa (held 5 April) here

For more information on the topic and speakers click here – SAAHE ESH Webinar programme 20230405


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

Health Care Without Harm (2021). Global Road Map for Health Care Decarbonization.

Karliner, J. (2020). “Coronavirus and the climate crisis: Common causes and shared solutions.”   Retrieved 2020/04/02, 200, from

Public Health Association of South Africa; South African Medical Association (2021). South Africa’s updated draft Nationally Determined Contribution: Submission by the Public Health Association of South Africa (PHASA) and South African Medical Association.

Shaw, E., S. Walpole, M. McLean, C. Alvarez-Nieto, S. Barna, K. Bazin, G. Behrens, H. Chase, B. Duane and O. El Omrani (2020). “AMEE Consensus Statement: Planetary health and education for sustainable healthcare.” Medical teacher 43(3): 272-286.

South Africa: Department of Environment Forestry and Fisheries (2019). National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy; Republic of South Africa,. Department of Environment Forestry and Fisheries. Pretoria.

South Africa: Department of Health (2019). National climate change and health adaptation plan 2020-2024,. D. o. Health. Pretoria.

Whitmee, S., A. Haines, C. Beyrer, F. Boltz, A. G. Capon, B. F. De Souza Dias, A. Ezeh, H. Frumkin, P. Gong, P. Head, R. Horton, G. M. Mace, R. Marten, S. S. Myers, S. Nishtar, S. A. Osofsky, S. K. Pattanayak, M. J. Pongsiri, C. Romanelli, A. Soucat, J. Vega and D. Yach (2015). “Safeguarding human health in the Anthropocene epoch: Report of the Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission on planetary health.” The Lancet 386(10007): 1973-2028.

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