Health Care Without Harm Network Communities helping to ‘First do no harm’

We are recycling not only to protect the environment but for economic reasons as well. Disposal is simply too costly and too dangerous. The challenge is to redirect the flow of raw materials going to landfill into strengthening our declining local economies. The solution to pollution is self-reliant cities and counties.
Neil Seldman, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, 1990

It was in October that the annual meeting of Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), was held amongst the beautiful mountainous hot springs resort at Chico, in Montana. The HCWH coalition is a broad-based international campaign designed to reform the environmental practices of the health care industry, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment. This mission is accomplished by promoting comprehensive pollution prevention practices; supporting the development and use of environmentally safe materials, technology and products; educating and informing health care institutions, providers, workers, consumers, and all affected constituencies about the environmental and public health impacts of the health care industry and solutions to these problems. The aim of the meeting was not only to further strengthen the global coalition against unsustainable health care practices, but also to share and celebrate members achievements in helping health care facilities to ‘first do no harm’, their efforts to help promote model health care facilities, as well as discuss and develop strategies to strengthen and advance HCWH’s mission at local, regional and global levels.

I was glad to see that over 69 participants had attended the official US meeting. Although most participants were from the States, other international countries included Mexico, Africa, Argentina, Philippines and Europe, which saw participants educating one another, sharing information, motivating each other, celebrating successes, developing friendships, building competence, playing games, horse riding, wolf and bear watching, swimming in hot springs and capturing loads of pleasant memories. I was excited to see how the network was expanding since two new regional coordinators from Mexico and Argentina had been appointed to start working on the health care waste issue in their respective areas.

Prior to the official meeting was a meeting for the non-US based members. The agenda included discussions on HCWH’s founding principles, structure, goals, and strategies, as well as how HCWH had evolved over the years. These help participants in formulating decisions on the next steps that would be needed to move forward in the development of a truly international HCWH. Also discussed included an assessment of the development of the work in the respective regions. This entailed reporting on how work was being conducted on progress towards specific issues and in the development of self-sustaining coalitions, where the main opportunities and priorities were and what were the obstacles being faced. These help participants understand the type of issues other members were dealing with. There was also discussions to learn from each other’s experience to figure out how to both better develop the work in other regions and tie it all together into a more cohesive global movement.

Training sessions for the international working groups also occurred during the official annual meeting. The tentative agenda for such training included technical information on toxicology and epidemiology, mercury, PVC, worker safety, alternative technologies, media, injection and worker safety. These training sessions were presented by HCWH’s own experts in the field such as Peter Orris, Jorge Emmanuel, Jamie Harvie and Susan Wilburn to name a few. It was incredible for me to learn so much more additional information on these subjects in such a short space of time. This has since inspired me to continue to provide further insights into better hospital waste management in African health institutions.

The HCWH annual meeting was of tremendous success for all, this was especially for HCWH’s non-US based members who had recently joined and had attended for the first time since being part of the annual meeting gave them a much better sense of HCWH. Also, during the display of regional work plans, the US working groups saw how they could support the international team. I felt fortunate to be amongst this great and inspirational family, which had many experts in the field who were rich in experience, having being involved in the movement since the beginning. Through HCWH, communities from all over the world are implementing effective solutions to the poisoning of our health.

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