Making a commitment to planetary health

Primary Care International (PCI) is a small social enterprise with big ambitions to ensure quality healthcare for people around the world. People in low- and middle-income countries are increasingly seeing the negative impact of climate change on their lives. The recent floods in Pakistan and drought in the Horn of Africa are just two devastating examples. As an organisation focused on compassionate, people-centred care we can’t ignore this.

Human health is inextricably linked to planetary health. But can we actually do anything about this as a small organisation – is it even our place? After reflections and discussions, including engaging those with considerably more knowledge in this area (thanks in particular to Renzo Guinto and Rita Issa), we have decided that, resolutely yes, we can and we will do something.

One significant action has been to launch our new organisational Sustainable Impact Principles, which include a firm commitment to planetary health, which we define as the equitable co-existence of all people alongside our planet. By making this commitment we explicitly acknowledge the inter-connected needs of people and planet, and commit to reducing ecological harm and supporting mitigation and adaptation strategies for climate-resilient healthcare.

Actions to support planetary health

Within our new commitment, PCI’s actions to support planetary health fit into three areas.

1. Moving towards zero harm as an organisation

This is about minimising the impact of our work on the environment. In practice, this means doing things like carefully considering if in-person support is needed when strengthening primary healthcare. If it is, then we are committed to working with colleagues (our Clinical Associates) living in that country or in the region as far as possible. Our work to develop a more diverse and globally located Associate Network is helping us to provide contextually relevant support to partners in person without the carbon footprint of flying. This is also integral to having a decolonised approach to planetary health. Our data tells us that the results and impact of remote learning through our digital platform the PCI Academy are equal to face-to-face learning. So we will continue developing the academy as a home for all our learning programmes.

2. Integrating planetary health perspectives into PCI’s learning programmes

Our work has a particular focus on supporting healthcare workers with learning, professional development and leadership for systems change. Making planetary health considerations a core focus of PCI’s learning programmes provides the opportunity to engage health professionals in their role in the interrelated issues of health and climate. This includes, for example, building an awareness of how climate change is affecting people’s environment and the impact of climatic trends, and understanding how system-level improvements can lead to more climate-resilient primary healthcare systems.
However, it is vital to remember that low- and middle-income countries are responsible for very little of the environmental damage that is happening, yet they find themselves dealing with its devastating effects on people’s health. There is an inverse correlation between cause and effect, and this injustice must be front and centre of our minds as we move forward with our work.

3. Partnerships for planetary health

Many tools on planetary health have already been developed, and we don’t want to re-invent the wheel. So we will leverage existing available tools, resources and advice as well as forge strategic partnerships, which deepen our understanding, knowledge and impact in this area.

We will also identify emerging initiatives in the healthcare space where PCI’s pragmatic learning can contribute to increasing understanding, awareness and action to reduce ecological harm and increase support for populations that have been made vulnerable to the worst effects of climate change.

.Underpinning this is a focus on how healthcare can be organised to ensure quality access to primary care, whether in the context of extreme weather events, living with chronic climate-related stress (e.g. heat, flooding, drought) or migration.

Realising planetary health is urgent, but it’s also complex. And it is the responsibility of us all to play our part. Committed as we are to moving forward with our ambitions around planetary health, we are a small organisation with limited budgets. We’d love to hear – and learn – from others working in this area. The partnership is key to all our work, and never more so in ensuring the equitable co-existence of all people alongside our planet.

If you are working in this area and would like to explore a partnership relating to planetary health please get in touch.


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