HCWH – WHO: Mercury-Free Health Care Worldwide by 2020 (Press Release)

Kumamoto Japan—As the world’s governments were signing a global treaty aimed at phasing out the use and emissions of mercury, Health Care Without Harm and the World Health Organization got straight to work and launched an initiative to achieve the Minamata Convention’s goal to end the manufacture, import and export of mercury-based medical devices by 2020.

“Today marks the culmination of a fifteen-year Health Care Without Harm effort that began with a single hospital in Boston, evolved into a global campaign that engaged the health sector on every continent, and has now resulted in a worldwide treaty” said HCWH President and co-founder Gary Cohen.  “It is also a day to redouble our efforts to phase-out mercury thermometers and blood pressure devices everywhere.”

The Minamata Convention calls for the end of the manufacture, import and export of mercury-containing fever thermometers and sphygmomanometers.  HCWH and WHO have been working together for this objective of mercury-free health care since 2008 by supporting the deployment of accurate, affordable, and safer non-mercury alternatives around the world.

Over the course of HCWH’s fifteen-year effort and its more recent collaboration with WHO, many countries and regions, including the European Union, the United States, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Mongolia have already embraced mercury-free health care.  Many more are on track to do so, including Brazil, India, China, South Africa and Mexico.  

“The tireless and committed work of nurses, doctors, and hospital leaders, along with NGOs, government and UN officials, has shown that switching to mercury-free health care is accurate, affordable, and also inevitable,” said Josh Karliner, HCWH Director of Global Projects.  “The treaty enshrines this inevitability.”

The WHO-HCWH Global Initiative for Mercury-Free Health Care is now gearing up to support health professionals, hospitals, health systems and ministries of health as they seek to implement the Minamata Convention.  The Mercury-Free Health Care Initiative will provide guidance and technical support, while continuing to expand awareness raising and mobilization in the health care around the world.  It aims to both shift demand toward alternative devices, and to educate societies as to the overall health impacts of mercury.

Mercury-free in Asia 

“When we started our mercury work in Asia, we only had Taiwan with a mercury thermometer ban and Philippines with a national legislation on mercury phase-out in health care,” said Merci Ferrer, HCWH-Asia Director.  “Over the years, the movement has gone stronger.  Mongolia, Thailand, and Bhutan, to name a few more countries in the region, have joined the substitution of mercury devices in health care.  Concern for health and the environment is more evident and hospital workers have started asking, ‘what else needs cleaning-up?’”

Mercury phase-out work, although started primarily as a health concern, has come to gather support from environment organizations.  “We feel it is just as much of a health concern as a continued environmental concern.  And the treaty is just as much a health treaty as an environment treaty,” said Atty. Miguel Cuna, OIC Director of the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB).  “For us to be able to comply with the provisions of the Minamata Convention there needs to be an effort from different sectors, including the health sector.”  

“Early in 2006, when some hospitals declared mercury-free, they were faced with questions and doubts both from patients and the administrators,” said Ferrer.  “Now that health systems world-wide are going mercury-free, we thank all the hospitals workers for stepping-up to care for their patients and the environment.”

While the Minamata Convention is a huge win in terms of greening the health sector, HCWH remains critical of some of the Minamata convention’s shortcomings.  This is particularly true when it comes to the treaty’s weak strictures around mercury emissions that come from coal fired power plants—factories that are expanding around the world.  “If the expansion of coal-based energy generation is not curbed,” said Dr. Peter Orris, a Senior Adviser to HCWH, “mercury emissions from coal threaten to undermine the mercury reduction the treaty is achieving elsewhere, curtailing its overall health benefits.”

Contact: Sonia G. Astudillo
E: sonia@no-harm.org
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