The health of the population and the environment are closely intertwined, and health is both a contributor and a beneficiary to sustainable and economic development. In order to be sustainable in the long-term, health systems must therefore provide quality care and improve the health of the population, while limiting their impact on the environment.   

The WHO defines a sustainable health system as a ‘system that improves, maintains or restores health, while minimising negative impacts on the environment and leveraging opportunities to restore and improve it, to the benefit of the health and well-being of current and future generations.’ [1]

To build sustainable health systems, three pillars must be considered: social, environmental and economic.

Firstly, providing sustainable health services is only possible if healthcare is available, adequate, accessible, affordable, and appropriate for everyone. In order to achieve this, health systems must address the problem of under-staffing and under-resourcing, reduce waiting times, work towards universal health coverage, and put in place integrated service delivery to provide comprehensive quality care to people throughout their lives. 

Secondly, to reduce the impact of the health sector on the environment, the delivery of health service activities needs to be planned and implemented according to sustainability principles, and health systems must aim to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Hospitals and care institutions must therefore commit to minimising and recycling their waste, reducing their carbon footprint, and putting in place environmentally responsible procurement practices. Having the right incentives in place is thus key to driving sustainability-oriented innovation.  

Lastly, to ensure the financial sustainability of health systems, health managers must investigate how to improve the quality of services delivered and patient outcomes while respecting budget constraints. Moreover, in order to be sustainable, health systems need to be resilient and flexible to be able to transcend after a shock and face constant evolution, including medical, demographic, economic, and technological changes. This highlights the importance of investing in health systems, both at the financial and at the workforce level.  

The EHMA 2022 Annual Conference provides the opportunity to further discuss how health systems can participate towards achieving SDGs and explore the strategies, processes and solutions that health systems and managers can implement to ensure the sustainability of health systems.

Have you carried out research focusing on sustainable health systems? Would you be interested in sharing your results with the health management community? Don’t forget to submit your abstract before Friday, 4 March at 17:00 CET. You will find all the relevant information for the Call for Abstracts here.

[1] World Health Organisation (2017). Environmentally sustainable health systems: a strategic document. Available from: Environmentally sustainable health systems: a strategic document (