top of page
  • Writer's pictureEmma Iovoli

Sustainable healthcare: are pharmaceutical companies the problem?

Since last week’s blog article, I have continued to reflect upon “who I am” as a doctor and what the doctor of the future, working within a more sustainable and equitable healthcare system, might become.

I came across a brand new book; the “Routledge Handbook of Climate Change and Health System Sustainability”.  There is nothing I love more than a new book, so after immediately purchasing the e-version of it I began hopefully browsing.

I found a section enticingly titled “Who are we?”, clicked on it to open and almost immediately my eyes located the following statement:

“Just as the oil industry has stifled our realisation of the lethal harms of carbon consumption, so too has the pharmaceutical industry promoted profitable drug solutions to health conditions, blinding us to “too much medicine” and undermining our collective resilience.”

A statement like this is perhaps designed to be provocative, and provoke it did. When I followed the reference it was to a BMJ opinion article on “overdiagnosis and too much medicine in a world of crisis” which did not reference the pharmaceutical industry as one of the root causes, but did highlight the need for improved medical education to avoid the pitfall of over-medicalisation.

My intention here is not to defend, or to attack, the industry, but rather to dig a little bit deeper. It seems important to face up to an accusation like this and ask – to what extent has the pharmaceutical industry contributed to a culture of over-medicalisation with a negative impact on healthcare resilience? What are the root causes that lie behind this? And in what ways could these root causes be tackled so that the pharmaceutical industry can be more capable of contributing to positive transformative change within sustainable healthcare systems?

If there has been robust systemic research exploring these questions, I would very much like to delve into it.  If there has not – isn’t this a gap? 

There is absolutely no doubt that the pharmaceutical sector has a huge sphere of influence – the number of employees within the industry itself or across its supply chain are likely to run into the millions, and almost every individual worldwide depends upon access to healthcare, upon which access to medicines do have a profound influence.

So, in positive terms, pharmaceutical companies could represent a huge opportunity to catalyse transformative change, helping healthcare reduce its environmental impact and become more resilient.

Having worked in the pharmaceutical sector for over a decade, I know that there is an enormous potential within the organisation's walls - a mountain of expertise, purpose, and passion. As medical affairs leaders, lets do the uncomfortable work of understanding who we currently are, and what we want to become, so that we can help healthcare get back on track towards a flourishing future.

19 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page