Why climate change matters for future health professionals

Climate Change 2017_ EU

New JRC study quantifies, among others, the costs of flood damages.©EU, 2011                        (Photo: E. Sokolova)

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Ms. Emma Aneshansley, recent graduate from Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts, and Mr Amro Aglan, a final year medical student at Tanta University, Egypt . They both are 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.

12.6 million people die every year from causes associated with pollution and climate change. This equates to one in four deaths worldwide. What is the most terrifying part? The largest environmental risk to human health is through our most basic need—the air that we breathe. Most of the time, people do not even realize when they are inhaling air containing a noxious concoction of industrial fumes and fine particulate matter.

Climate change affects air quality, decreases access to safe water and food security; in addition, it increases the transmission of vector-borne diseases. Therefore, it is considered one of the leading environmental threats to public health with an expected increase of 250,000 annual deaths from 2030 to 2050 if it is not addressed effectively.

As previous interns in the WHO Public Health & Environment Unit, we comprehensively see the magnitude of this crisis. Climate change knows no boundaries and impacts all fields of our work as future health professionals, from optometry to child and maternal care to neurology. However, we also see how our generation is passionate and capable to transform the perception of climate change as the greatest threat to the greatest opportunity for action. So the question is: What can we—as health students—do to combat this global emergency?

First, raising awareness is imperative at both individual and community levels. We must develop an understanding that without action on climate change, it will increase as a health threat to civil society. It is also our duty to raise awareness regarding individual mitigation actions that have various health co-benefits and lead by example. For instance: bike to your school. This reduces traffic pollution, lowers rates of traffic injury risks and decreases traffic noise stress. On a personal level, it contributes towards the prevention of heart disease, diabetes, obesity-related risks and overall wellbeing.

Secondly, we should advocate in our universities to include the adverse effects of climate change on human health in public health classes. Climate change is already affecting people’s health and the magnitude of these impacts will continue to grow. Therefore, It is crucial for us as health students to understand these impacts and get equipped with necessary competencies to respond accordingly.

Third, we should take part in reducing the carbon footprint of our health systems, we can engage with hospital administrators around sustainability and carbon neutrality. Many health systems are already working on these issues, so we can try to accelerate changes.

Last but not least, we are talking about our communal future, our planet and our wellbeing. Therefore it is our responsibility as prospective members of the health community to take the lead and get involved in shaping this future the way we dream of. We should always make sure that the voices of youth and young health professionals reach country leaders, stakeholders and policymakers. We need to maintain an optimistic and persistent standpoint and prepare for tomorrow’s challenges.

About the authors

Amro Aglan, is a final year medical student at Tanta University, Egypt. He has been involved in International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) Exchange programs during the last 4 years and last year he was appointed as International General Assistant for IFMSA Professional Exchanges and he is currently the president of IFMSA-Egypt. Amro is interested in Global Health issues with a focus on Climate change and he is a previous intern in the Department of Public Health and Environment at the World Health Organisation’s Geneva headquarters. In addition, he was a part of the WHO Delegation to the 22nd Conference of Parties in Morocco.

Emma Aneshansley, recently graduated from Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts. she studied Health Science and Public Health. She is especially interested in women’s and paediatric medicine, with a focus on preventative and primary care. During the Spring of 2017, she interned at an organisation called Children’s HeathWatch, where she assisted in public policy advocacy targeted at low-income families. Prior to this, she interned in the Department of Public Health and Environment at the World Health Organisation’s Geneva headquarters, where she worked on projects surrounding the effects on climate change on human health.

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