Hospital nurse
It emphasizes that extreme weather events have the potential to disrupt hospital operations, jeopardizing patient care. Hannah Mckay/Reuters

A comprehensive new report has sent shockwaves through the global healthcare community, revealing that extreme weather events could potentially force the closure of one in twelve hospitals worldwide unless there is a swift transition away from fossil fuels.

The findings, outlined in the report released by a consortium of international climate and health organisations, highlight the vulnerability of healthcare infrastructure in the face of escalating climate crises.

The Cross Dependency Initiative (XDI), a climate risk analyst, states that the number of hospitals at high risk will double to 16,245 by the end of the century without an accelerated shift.

The report, released ahead of Health Day at the Cop28 UN climate conference in Dubai, emphasises that buildings with such vulnerability would be deemed uninsurable, akin to residential or commercial structures.

Dr Karl Mallon, Director of Science and Technology at XDI, underscored the escalating impact of climate change on global health.

He stated: "Climate change is increasingly impacting the health of people around the world. What happens when severe weather results in hospital shutdowns as well? Our analysis shows that without a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels, the risks to global health will be exacerbated further, as thousands of hospitals become unable to deliver services during crises."

While certain hospitals can be adapted to withstand extreme weather conditions such as hurricanes, severe storms, floods and wildfires, a considerable number may necessitate relocation at a substantial cost.

The report sheds light on the urgent need for concerted efforts to address climate change, not only for environmental reasons but also to safeguard critical healthcare infrastructure and the well-being of communities globally.

It emphasises that extreme weather events, including heatwaves, floods, storms and wildfires, have the potential to disrupt hospital operations, jeopardising patient care and straining already overstretched healthcare systems.

Similar to various repercussions of climate breakdown, this issue will predominantly impact lower- and middle-income nations, housing 71 per cent (11,512) of the hospitals anticipated to be at risk by the close of the century.

Presently, Southeast Asia stands out with the highest proportion of hospitals facing a high risk of damage from extreme weather events.

The region also confronts impending risks, as nearly one in five hospitals (18.4%) could face complete or partial shutdown by the conclusion of the century, particularly if emissions remain high.

In the UK, where climate change is already contributing to more frequent and intense weather events, hospitals are also grappling with the potential consequences outlined in the report.

Rising temperatures, increased risk of flooding and the potential for severe storms pose challenges to healthcare facilities, necessitating proactive measures to ensure the continued provision of vital medical services.

The report recommends a multi-faceted approach to enhance hospital resilience, including strategic infrastructure investments, the development of climate-resilient building codes and the establishment of early warning systems.

It underscores the importance of international collaboration to address the global nature of the challenge, with developed nations urged to support vulnerable countries in building climate-resilient healthcare infrastructure.

Public health experts stress that the potential closure of hospitals due to extreme weather events goes beyond immediate health concerns.

Disruptions in healthcare services can have cascading effects on communities, exacerbating existing health inequalities and hindering emergency response capabilities.

Professor Nick Watts, leading the Centre for Sustainable Medicine at the National University of Singapore, emphasizes the clear threat posed by climate change to the stability of health systems. He states, "It is evident that climate change threatens to undermine the stability of the health systems our patients and communities depend on. Whether it leads to the closure of health facilities or clinics being overwhelmed with escalating disease burdens, the human consequences are severe."

The Cross Dependency Initiative (XDI) has disclosed the locations and names of all hospitals facing these risks, urging governments to scrutinise healthcare facilities in their respective regions to ensure protective measures are in place.

Dr Karl Mallon emphasises the responsibility of governments to safeguard critical services and calls attention to the urgent need for action.

He stated: "Governments have a duty to populations to ensure the ongoing delivery of critical services. For individual governments not to take action on this information, or for the global community not to support governments in need, is blatant disregard for the well-being of their citizens."

In the face of these revelations, healthcare authorities, policymakers and the public must collectively prioritise measures to fortify hospitals against the mounting threats of extreme weather events, ensuring that healthcare remains a steadfast pillar even in the face of a changing climate.