Why medicine is relevant to the battle against climate change

Climate Change_

(Climate Change, Capacity4Dev, Europa, 2017)

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Ms Falah Nadeem, a 3rd year MBBS student at Rashid Latif Medical College in Lahore, Pakistan. She 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.

Climate change, an often eluded subject by some, is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. While rising sea levels and temperatures, extreme weather and steadily increasing CO2 levels caused by air pollution are becoming commonplace in the news there is another, often ignored, side of climate change.  And that is its ill effect on health.

Increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere contribute to the greenhouse effect which has caused the world to warm up by 0.85oC in the past 130 years, leading to extreme heat in certain areas of the world; a cause of heat stroke and cardiovascular failure leading up to death. The temperature changes also lead to unpredictable (often extreme) weather which can itself cause deaths (e.g. by tsunamis and floods) or can lead to a diminished food and water supply (especially in drought prone areas) leading to malnutrition.

The changing vector ecology is leading to greater outbreaks of dengue, malaria, encephalitis, etc. which combined with greater susceptibility due to malnutrition is causing record breaking cases of these diseases unprecedented in the world. Heat also causes higher levels of ground level ozone and accumulation of pollutants and allergens which are hazardous to health (respiratory diseases, asthma).

The solution? Medical students working for a better future. This is a two pronged approach. As students we can educate ourselves and others regarding the problem of climate change and the long term solutions. We can become more conscious of our carbon footprint, helping reduce it by simple everyday actions including becoming energy efficient by using LEDs, turning off appliances that are not in use and switching to renewable forms of power like solar energy.

Even simple things like reducing garbage, recycling, flying less, eating organic foods and traveling via fuel efficient vehicles goes a long way towards reducing a person’s carbon footprint. These actions lead to the burning of less fossil fuels and therefore decreased levels of CO2 and eventually with enough contribution to improved health.

The second prong, related to our field (medicine) forces us to get informed and research for the sake of saving lives. The effect of climate change on the health of people of specific geographic areas is a priority, specially the groups most vulnerable (children, poor country residents, small islands most effected by climate change). We can also raise awareness regarding survival of the dangers of climate change and work to make sure health is represented in the UN. Scientific research also needs to be done to prove the links between climate change and health to convince the people of the threat so they can be more vigilant in watching out for their own health in the changing climates.

Climate change may be problematic for health but medical students, who are on the perfect platform to help mitigate its effects for our future generations, are the solution.  We must improve public health one step at a time. By reducing our carbon footprint and as future doctors coming up with new and innovative ways to improve health along with teaching ourselves and others we can eliminate the danger climate change poses for health. So step up students and make a difference!

References

  • WHO climate change fact sheet (June 2016) Climate change and health

Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs266/en/  (Accessed 28th June 2017)

About the author

Falah Nadeem is 3rd year MBBS student at Rashid Latif Medical College in Lahore, Pakistan. A member of the IFMSA-Pakistan she has taken various workshops including some on research methodology and disaster management. She has a distinction in biochemistry and aspires to become a cardiac surgeon. She did her A ‘levels from Lahore Grammar School and during that time took a leading role in her team for the Asian Regional Space Settlement Design Competition winning the round and going to the NASA Johnson Space Centre for the final round. She hopes to go into research and eventually learn more about meta-analysis.

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