Role Of Health Care Sectors In Climate Change Response

Protesters rally for action on climate change outside Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, lampoon Prime Minister Scott Morrison over his support for fossil fuel industries. Inside Parliament, lawmakers commemorated wildfire victims and praised the heroism of firefighters during the continuing wildfire crisis. (AP Photo/Rod McGuirk)

STRATEGIC EYE – A column on current national and global issues

By  Shreenik Kundu@

Today we are in the midst of a global health crisis and this reminds us the importance of global healthcare collaborations and the need for international support in every disaster events. This also shows how far the health care system has developed from the previous outbreaks and how the international community and organisations are improving in responding to such disastrous situations, however, there are still lot to do and learn from every such events that is causing numerous deaths and sufferings.

Due to climate change in the recent years, the temperature has increased, which in turn has increased the frequency of certain disastrous phenomenon, such as wildfires, floods, earthquakes and hurricanes. The effects of climate change on disaster events have also influenced the health and safety of humanity.

There  are  major long-term health effects causing due to climate change. The recent wildfires in Australia exposed the vulnerability of the healthcare systems. In Canada, wildfires are common and it happens every year. Such wildfires have shown major increase in respiratory diseases like asthma in the affected areas.

FILE – In this file photo, a man looks up as police and fire personnel move in to remove climate activists and their banner, after they climbed the Europa building during a demonstration outside an EU summit meeting in Brussels. Massive challenges lay ahead for the European Union in 2020, as the impact of climate change seems likely to drive the bloc’s thinking and policy initiatives over the coming years. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, FILE)

The increasing temperatures are also linked with increase in cardiac diseases. The decreasing quality of air and warmer air around the world is contributing to vector-borne diseases like Zika and Lyme disease. The issue of climate change is not being addressed adequately. Though every hospital has specific protocols in place to deal with such disasters but they are still not enough to deal with the rising issues.

Natural disasters caused by rising climate change affect the global health system. This is a serious issue which requires not only a national but also an international intervention. In most of the cases the response to such environmental disasters are left to be handled by the military and health care personnel.

Nonetheless, such disasters should be approached with more preparedness and the international organisations like the United Nation, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the national governments needs to strengthen the support system around its health care systems and the emergency response teams.

International collaboration

The importance of international collaboration in health care in the recent times were seen during the Australian wildfires, during Hurricane Irma. In addition, It is important that the health-care system of a country and international  health-care bodies are linked together as this kind of a connections will in turn guarantee a complete and efficient response to any such disasters like the spread of viruses which is directly or indirectly caused by climate change.

The research reports showed that certain health care sectors like some hospitals and some pharmaceutical companies are contributing in climate change too. Doctors takes oath to protect the human being, but certain health care sectors in Canada was responsible for 4.6 percent of national greenhouse gas emissions between 2009 and 2015, (report published on July 31st 2018, in public library of science’s (PLOS) Medicine).  It is well known, that certain medical and surgical wastes and anaesthetics are mostly unsustainable wastes, hence, there is a need to find a better ways to manage them or replace them. Certain health care sectors like WHO and health care Canada are moving towards a more sustainable and greener health care system.

Climate change protesters gather outside Australia Embassy in London, Friday, Jan. 10, 2020 to protest against the Australian government’s response to the wildfires in Australia. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

Some health care sectors have recognised the seriousness of this problem and is working towards solving this issue and addressing the concerns. In California (USA), Kaiser Permanente built a new hospital. In this hospital, they combined the need for sustainability and superior patient experience and built the San Diego medical Centre. The hospital has 1500 solar panels on the roof which fuels its highly efficient on-site generator. They have fixed all LED (Light Emitting  Diode) lights which includes lights for patients that helps mimic sunlight and promote recovery.

This hospital also has plants and gardens which are watered with reclaimed rainwater. This medical centre is one of the top environmentally rated hospital and also an example of how sustainability can meet better patient care. These types of projects have proven the fact that sustainability and reducing the carbon footprints from the health care centres could be more affordable than what people actually expects.

It is difficult to become carbon neutral or sustainable in a short time, but there is a need to take steps gradually to prepare for the future threats posed by climate change and prevent the threats emitting from climate change for the future generation. This way Health care sectors can respond better to climate change and focus on the gaps and challenges.

@ Dr. Shreenik Kundu, MBBS, Masters Candidate in Experimental Surgery, Department of Surgery, McGill University.