Climate change and health – can medical students be the solution?

drought 2019

(Unsplash, 2019)

This article was exclusively written for the The European Sting by Mr. Alexander Brezina, a German medical student who spent a year in the US before coming  to study in Brussels at Catholic University of Louvain, to combine medicine and French. He is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. 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.


I once went to a conference on climate change and health where they said that in the past, doctors would complain: “We are already busy enough with the health of our patients, we cannot talk about the climate, too.” Today’s medical students, however, are willing to talk about it, seeing the scope of the problems at hand: According to recent estimates, there will be around 250 000 deaths per year caused by climate change between 2030 and 2050.

The link to medicine might not come to mind spontaneously when talking about climate change, but there a numerous connections worth considering: A warmer climate can lead to more cases of infectious diseases, as their vector animals( for example the Anopheles mosquito transmitting malaria) can now conquer land that was previously too cold for them. As weather extremes become more frequent,such as heatwaves, additional death due to heat stress will ensue. In addition to that, according to the WHO, climate change will have an effect on the so called social and environmental determinants of health, e.g. safe drinking water and sufficient food.

Unfortunately, some people might be skeptical about Global Warming or just not feel concerned about it at all, perceiving it as something too abstract. However,people’s own health is something more personal. As doctors of the future, we can bridge the gap: If awareness is raised about the negative effect of coal power plants on respiratory health, this might lead  to less coal energy.The result for the climate is the same, no matter the origin of our concern.

As medical students, we are in an ideal position for this job. We chose our future profession to care for others, to educate them about the health problems they are facing. We will be there to listen to their problems, fears, misunderstandings. As the doctors of the future, people will vest us with their trust, so it is our duty to speak about climate change when it endangers their health. For our actions to be effective, we should take them better sooner than later because later, once we are well-established doctors, might be too late. Given our young age, we will most likely live to see those times that are being referred to in climate change scenarios. For us, 2050 is not just a number but a real prospect, one more reason to get involved.

We will be living in the world of tomorrow and we have received the education needed to understand, at least partially, some of the challenges of the future. In addition to that, IFMSA offers us the opportunity to experience firsthand what a role we can play. Just this May, IFMSA was present at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change talks.

We cannot claim to be the whole solution to the problem. NGOs, civil society, lawmakers all have their parts to play. We can however work with them for a better future while always keeping in mind:

The future is now.

About the author

Mr. Alexander Brezina is a German national  who spent a year in the US before coming  to study in Brussels at Catholic University of Louvain, to combine medicine and French. He then continued his passion for multiculturalism with two Erasmus exchanges, one to the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya in Barcelona, where he first came into contact with IFMSA and wanted to establish it at his university. He did another Erasmus exchange to the Universidade do Porto, in Porto, Portugal. In his spare time, he likes indoor climbing and learning more languages, and of course, IFMSA.

 

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