Australian news, and some related international items

Health dangers from climate change are already with us

Health and climate change, The Saturday Paper, The World Health Organisation’s director-general describes climate change as ‘the fifth horseman’ of the apocalypse, as doctors are encouraged to speak out more about illness and death caused by extreme weather. By Marie McInerney. 6 May 17,  “……….The World Health Organisation is clear, declaring climate change “the defining issue” for this century. The WHO’s director-general, Dr Margaret Chan, has described it as “the fifth horseman” of the apocalypse, a new threat riding across the public health landscape.

The health risks posed for Australia have been catalogued by the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA), a coalition of health and social policy groups that has developed a framework for a national strategy on climate, health and wellbeing in the absence of government or departmental leadership.

At the top of the list of risks are increasing frequency and ferocity of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, floods and storms such as cyclone Debbie. A warmer climate and changing rainfall patterns will increase the range and prevalence of food, water and vector-borne diseases. The evidence also warns of mental health impacts, worsening allergies and asthma, disrupted food and water supplies, and health issues for people who work in the outdoors or respond to escalating disasters.

Groups such as CAHA say a big struggle on climate change has been to persuade people that it’s not just an environmental issue, and that the health urgency is personal and immediate.

That’s where Dr Bastian Seidel sees a role for GPs as “climate witnesses”. Seidel moved to Tasmania a decade ago from Germany and was recently elected president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Australia’s largest medical organisation.

He says not a day goes by in his rural Huon Valley practice that he doesn’t hear about a climate change impact for his patients. Seasons are now pretty much unpredictable. He sees cherry farmers struggling to get crops out at Christmas, graziers dealing with prolonged drought, salmon producers worried about unseasonably hot weather. Hayfever cases now seem to go all year round.

The trouble is, he says, that not enough questions are being asked – by politicians, the media, public service, and also the medical profession – about what is causing these shifts and what health services need to do about them.

Seidel points to the recent thunderstorm asthma outbreak in Victoria that resulted in nine deaths and overwhelmed services – Victoria’s health minister Jill Hennessy likened it to 150 bombs going off in different places at once. While the government’s report into the event briefly acknowledges the influence of climate change on key conditions, Seidel says there was barely any scrutiny of its role.

“It looks like climate change has almost become the Voldemort of health impact research and policy – it shall not be named,” he says.

Seidel says GPs have to be bold enough to nominate climate change as a cause of illness and to campaign to have health policies “blueprinted” against climate change effects.

A priority example, he says, is the federal government’s Closing the Gap report. While many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities are at heightened risk from climate change, he says the term is only mentioned once in the 2017 report – in reference to the number of Indigenous employees at the Climate Change Authority.

While others may still shy away from the debate, Simon Judkins sees speaking out on climate change as a growing professional responsibility based on two core principles of healthcare: that prevention is better than cure, and that doctors have a duty of care for patients such as Ruby and others most immediately susceptible to climate change effects.

“Obviously there is the science to support, and we are scientists,” he said. “But we also need to advocate for the people we look after. The people who are going to be most affected by climate change are those who need a very robust public health system and GP support system because they can’t buy their way out of this. We do have a voice that is hopefully respected and I don’t think we use that voice enough in this space.”

May 7, 2017 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, climate change - global warming

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