An introduction to ‘Eco-Medical Literacy’ and its importance in shaping expert medical professionals

Climate Change 2017 EU Parliament

(European Parliament, 2017)

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Ms. Ayesha Siddiqua, a first year MBBS student at Quaid-e-Azam Medical College, Bahawalpur, Pakistan. She is also affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA). However, the opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Climate change refers to change in mean climatic conditions I.e increased variability from natural environment, including extreme weather events such as heat waves, floods, droughts etc. It is a major public health issue, threatening the viability of ecosystems; the fabric sustaining human health. It has :

Direct health impacts caused by extreme weather disasters like death, injury, post event traumatic stress and higher disease risks.

Indirect health impacts caused by changes in ecologically based systems particularly food yields, water flows, infectious disease vector etc. These impacts include nutritional deficiencies, various water borne infections and reduced adult life course.

These health impacts are more extreme in rural and remote regions that constitute developing and underdeveloped countries of the world.

Medical students in such remote areas are aware of these implications of climate changes on health; but are unclear of their responsibilities, and remain unprepared for health sector mitigation, and adaptation to these ill-effects of climate change in their professional practice.Nowadays, a medical student is seen to acquire a very distinctive, specialized set of knowledge and skills based on highly contextualized knowledge.

Even though the national medical curriculum does include a substantial component of community based factors that shape up health; eco-medical literacy is required to be integrated as an extension of present medical training. In a crowded curriculum, it offers the opportunity to enhance understanding of how interactions between people and place affect health.
Eco-medical literacy is the ability to access, understand, interpret and use information about health related ecological effects of climate change to deliver and improve services. It aims to equip medical students with tools to predict human health in uncertain ecological future. It helps them to manage climate sensitive illnesses, assist communities to adapt to changing climate conditions and mitigate the effects of change in professional practice.

There are many reasons  to why is it important to shape expert medical professionals.

1-Sustainable Healthcare in Rural and Remote Regions:

Doctors working in rural and remote regions acquire understanding of interactions between climate change and health they weren’t taught in medical school. The vast regional differences in climate change and communities creates diverse demands in doctors. If there is medical education curricula including environmental literacy in medical schools, the future doctors will be able to manage climate regarding illnesses and provide healthcare in a responsible and sustainable way.

2-Raised Public Health Literacy:
Doctors lead people by example. People ideally look up to healthcare professionals to be agents of social change. Training medical students about climate change is an avenue to improve public health literacy which is essential to build a climate resilient society. Eg doctors in urban areas must promote awareness of risk of ozone and pollen in respiratory disease or during heat wave to prevent heat stress.

3-Strong Core Clinical Knowledge:
Eco-literacy also serves to enhance the core clinical knowledge of future doctors as it promotes evidence based practice. One may learn more about examining heat strokes and their physiological risk, climate related shifts of vector borne disease or the association of respiratory disease and pollution.

4-Improved Clinical Reasoning and Diagnostic Skills:
Clinical reasoning improves if we know the details about local ecosystems along side information about present condition in patient histories. This will help the diagnosis of more complex climate related conditions such as; mental health problems due to population displacement by drought.

5-Emergency Care Provision:

Climate change knowledge helps build new pressure and emergency skills in health professionals. They learn how to handle increased patient input in climate disaster struck areas, improve their post retrieval skills and disaster management skills such as grief counselling.

6-Better health of Local Communities:
If the practitioner has a deeper understanding of the way ecology is impacting his local community. How it’s affecting the food and water supplies, he will participate in health promotion activities. Eg assisting the local government with heat wave planning, bringing new requirements in safety and early warning systems to flood prone areas.

7-Legal, Professional and Ethical Competency:

Medical education seeks to impart legal, professional and ethical competencies. Different climate change teaching techniques eg peer to peer teaching and debates help to shape up personalities of future health professionals.

In research based projects, they may engage in collaborative learning with those who work in area beyond health such as environmental specialists performing regional weather forecast and environmental trouble shooting etc.
Moreover, regional variation in health effects the locally acquired eco-literacy; which the students may share with their immediate peers. This again enhances professional developments of students.

Eco literacy is no longer to be considered peripheral to mainstream medical education. It is important for producing well rounded and skilled medical professionals in future.

References:

1- Medical Students, Climate Change and Health. E:CO Vol.14 NO.1 2012 pp-1-14
2-Teaching about climate change in medical education PMCID: PMC4856872

3- Climate change: What competencies and which medical education training approaches. BMC Medical Education. DOI: 10.1186/1472-6920-10-31

About the author

Ayesha Siddiqua is a first year MBBS student at Quaid-e-Azam Medical College, Bahawalpur, Pakistan. She is a member of International Federation of Medical Students Association (IFMSA Pakistan) and works as a local officer of public health. She is passionate about working to ameliorate global and local health issues. Currently, she is also a coordinator for blood donations to deserving patients from students and serves as a writer to Literary Society of college.

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