'Sustainability' has become a central criterion used by funders - including foundations, governmental agencies and international agencies - in evaluating public health programmes. The criterion became important as a result of frustration with discontinuities in the provision of care. As a result of its application, projects that involve building infrastructure, training or relatively narrow objectives tend to receive support. In this article, we argue for a reconceptualisation of sustainability criteria in light of the idea that health is an investment that is itself sustaining and sustainable, and for the abandonment of conceptualisations of sustainability that focus on the consumable medical interventions required to achieve health. The implication is a tailoring of the time horizon for creating value that reflects the challenges of achieving health in a community. We also argue that funders and coordinating bodies, rather than the specialised health providers that they support, are best positioned to develop integrated programmes of medical interventions to achieve truly sustainable health outcomes.