The medical device industry is being urged to prepare for the impact of a climate crisis as hotter summers and more adverse weather events threaten to impact the industry with a surge of patients affected by the rising heat.

The industry’s impact on the global climate took centre stage at the Medtech Forum 2024 conference in Vienna as representatives from medtech giants including Siemens Healthineers and Philips joined with representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Commission to discuss what manufacturers can do to prepare whilst cutting back on their own climate impact.

The WHO’s Antonius Kolimenakis kicked off proceedings by reminding the audience of the European-wide heat waves of 2022 in which research published in the journal Nature Medicine detailed how there were approximately 60,000 to 70,000 preventable deaths across the continent that year directly linked to the sharp rise in temperature.

At the same time, panellists were also reminded of the strain that the Covid-19 pandemic put on the European medical device scene in terms of sourcing and supplying goods in the midst of a health crisis, warning that as heat levels rise, supply chains could become stretched thin for manufacturers.

Speaking to the audience, deputy director for small and medium enterprises at the European Commission, Hubert Gambs said: “It does not surprise me at all that many people think there will be another health crisis linked to climate change. But also, I think it is an opportunity for an innovative economic sector like MedTech.

“The number of extreme situations is increasing, that cannot be denied by anybody. In Europe what we can do is look at ways to make ourselves more resilient in this challenge. That starts by developing products and devices that are safe and sustainable. Do you think about sustainability when you design a product?”

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The panel discussed the latest report from the European Environment Agency, titled the European Climate Risk Assessment which detailed how climate change over the last 30 years has significantly increased the risk of extreme and adverse weather events.

Attendees at the event were also invited to take part in an interactive visual world cloud in which they were invited to propose wishes for policymakers they would like to see implemented to combat the climate issue. Vague suggestions such as ‘harmonisation’ and ‘vision’ took top place with most of the audience, whilst specific policy suggestions such as ‘stopping fossil fuel subsidies’ took a backseat.

The discussion followed shortly after another panel in which medical device firms were urged to get involved in European politics ahead of an upcoming European Union (EU) election.

The discussion also hit upon a 2020 report from the healthcare journal, The Lancet, in which it was found that the healthcare industry overall contributes to approximately 5% of the total greenhouse gasses causing the sharp rise in temperature. At the same time, the panel highlighted the efforts set out at geo-political events such as COP28.

Antonius Kolimenakis, called on guests to reduce their environmental impact, adding: “There is a lot of evidence that the climate crisis is indeed a health crisis, around 6.7 million deaths a year are indirectly linked with pollution. Now we can see the direct impact that pollution has on our health. We will also experience floods, droughts – all these things that will also put pressure on things like food supplies which will have an impact on health.

“I don’t think we have time to discuss planning in the future, the impact of the climate crisis on health is one we are finding out about now.”