Medical students, climate change and health: an unorthodox combination

Climate Change EU

(European Environmental Agency, 2017)

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Mr Ankit Raj, a final year MBBS student from Kasturba Medical College, Manipal, India . He is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA). However, the opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

The Lancet has called climate change “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.” When we think of climate change, we no longer think of just rising sea levels. Climate mayhem has come home and it’s impacting your most powerful ally- Healthcare.

The health impacts of climate change include aggravating emergent and re-emergent diseases, extreme weather-related mortality and injuries, heat-related emergencies, increase in asthma and allergies, rapid spread of infectious diseases, mental health disorders and growing health impacts due to population displacement and climate-impacted instability.

While we look at these impacts of climate change on health and diseases, we must also begin to analyze and address healthcare sector’s climate footprint and take necessary steps wherever required. The greenhouse gases it emits, waste it produces and energy and resources it consumes, directly or indirectly affects climate.

Given these distressing warning signals, we must engage healthcare sector in climate change mitigation and preparedness. We must prepare for a public health storm that threatens to devour majority of underprepared communities across the world.

As we begin to evaluate the enormous impact of climate change on healthcare, medical students are in a position to educate the public and help prepare them for these impacts. As we enjoy an unprecedented role as positive messengers for health in society, we can play a profound role in policy changes and awareness campaigns around climate change and health.1

Medical students must engage in education and awareness of health professionals and public at large, on climate change and health. An advocacy for implementation of ‘Seven elements of a climate-friendly hospital’, as formulated by WHO, should be at the forefront of this awareness campaign.2 Students’ organizations like IFMSA must form meaningful collaboration with organizations such as Health Care Without Harm, that are already working in  this field, and advocate for significant policies around climate change and health care at WHO and national governments. Multi-disciplinary collaboration with students and organizations from other sectors such as engineering, architecture, transportation, energy and waste management with a focus on innovation of sustainable technology and diverse projects can scale up the impact of this campaign.

As medical students, we can also work with our medical schools to integrate climate literacy into medical curriculum or to develop workshops on climate change and health that focuses on its impacts and mitigation. Medical students also have a privileged position in society and powerful voice in communities. We can use our experience and passion to elevate the awareness on climate change and raise the voice on policy advocacy through blogs, op-eds, articles, research projects and social media campaigning.3

As future doctors, who will make clinical decisions that could have consequences for the environment, we must determine to become an informed advocate for climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. We must also lead by example by doing our part to understand and minimize our own climate footprint.

References:

  1. Cohen, Gary. What does Climate Change Have to Do With Health Care? 7 April, 2013. forbes.com
  2. Healthy Hospitals, Healthy Planet, Healthy People. Addressing climate change in health care settings. Discussion Draft. World Health Organizations, Health Care Without Harm.
  3. “Medical Students Must Act On Climate Change – US Climate And Health Alliance”. US Climate and Health Alliance. N.p., 2017. Web. 1 July 2017.

About the author

Ankit Raj is a final year MBBS student from Kasturba Medical College, Manipal, India and a member of IFMSA. He is passionately interested in global health, global surgery, digital health and medical curriculum. Currently, he is also serving as a part of Education team at International Student Surgical Network (InciSioN).

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