The climate crisis is also a health crisis

Well-functioning healthcare is part of societal security. We must develop the healthcare system in a way that promotes health and is socially and ecologically sustainable, says Professor Kristiina Patja.

What are your research topics?

I investigate healthcare and the health promotion as systems. Healthcare is already facing the effects of the climate crisis and biodiversity loss. The healthcare system must be developed so that we produce as much health, functional capacity, and wellbeing as possible for the population in a socially and ecologically sustainable manner without wasting the resources at our disposal.

I study entities and concepts needed to bring about the sustainability transition.

Where and how does the topic of your research have an impact?

Healthcare accompanies us in all stages of our lives, sometimes more prominently and at least in the background. We will notice if it does not function well. As a system, it is complex. The various functions, services and resources of healthcare are interconnected. When you change one element, the effects may become visible in many places simultaneously and multiply.

For example, while during the coronavirus epidemic healthcare professionals were needed for testing, vaccinating and infection treatment, there were over 200 000 fewer type 2 diabetes -related healthcare visits in 2020 than in the previous year.

Healthcare must support citizens’ healthy choices, and the promotion of health is an important duty of healthcare. The topic must be investigated also as a whole, so that we are able to design healthcare in a way that makes it function efficiently and safely, reach citizens at the right time, consume shared resources fairly and have the capacity for anticipating change and crises. Well-functioning healthcare is part of societal security.

What is particularly inspiring in your field right now?

I have previously studied health promotion and complex interventions as well as contributed to the practical development of healthcare. Now we are facing the climate crisis, a major shared global challenge, which is also a crisis of health. A lot can be learned from previous research.

Sustainable healthcare is in its early stages, challenging us to embark on a new kind of collaboration and to apply prior research in new ways. What is particularly inspiring is that the sustainability challenge increases the significance of health promotion. We have to rethink many of our basic assumptions.

At the moment I investigate how our concept of health, the technical development of medicine, healthcare as a system and people as part of nature can be taken into consideration in the sustainable development of healthcare.


Kristiina Patja is Professor of Healthcare Science at the Faculty of Medicine.

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