Health: The neglected aspect of climate change

drought 2019__

(Unsplash, 2019)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Chun- Yi Tseng, a first-year medical student at Chang Gung University in Taiwan. 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.

Rising sea levels, erratic weather events and famines are what comes to mind when we think about climate change. Seemingly apocalyptical, heat stress due to global warming can indeed impact our health. Just think dehydration and heat strokes; and that is only the tip of the iceberg. This article will provide three major reasons why it is imperative for human health to be at the center of discussion.

Opponents may argue that focusing on health instead of other major environmental concerns will divert attention and resources away which could be used to develop solutions to find more sustainable ways of living. While I do corroborate, the reverse can also be true. By shining light on the potential impact climate change can have on health, more countries might see the urgency to invest more resources while becoming more committed in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The WHO estimates approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 due to polluted air, water, unstable food supplies and lack of shelter. Quantifying the increased threat of climate change to health can thus help us understand how climate change adversely impacts the social and environmental determinants of health.

While majority of scientists worldwide are attempting to find solutions to cancer and genetic related diseases, or trying to tackle with the rise of bioinformatics in medicine; few have found it truly worthwhile to unravel the effects of climate change on human health. In fact, the very existence of global warming is questioned even today. By allowing health to be in the center of discussion, we will be opening doors and also inviting research to understand how a heated planet can influence our health.

With advanced computer modelling, the potential increase in mosquito-borne diseases such as Malaria, Elephantiasis, Dengue and Rift Valley Fever could be predicted and effective solutions sought. Anticipating malnutrition and diet related chronic diseases as a consequence of crop failure could also allow the development of more drought resistant crops.

Unfortunately, a close inspection would reveal that the main victims of climate change are that of developing, predominantly agricultural-based societies. While the entire human race is certainly threatened, it is the very underprivileged and vulnerable members in the poorer nations that are feeling the brunt of this global crisis. I believe it is a basic human right to keep everyone informed about the effects of global warming on one’s health.

We should not shy away from this issue while allowing the more powerful and influential countries continue to release greenhouse gases ruthlessly into the atmosphere. We cannot continue to allow them to poison our oceans, or irresponsibly withdraw from global climate accords. Action needs to be taken immediately.

At the point of writing, the World Meteorological Organisation has confirmed that 2018 was the fourth warmest year on record. Blatant ignorance is not bliss but a recipe for disaster. NGOs, Governments and medical institutions worldwide must anticipate potential healthcare challenges that would arise in the future before it is too late.

About the author

Chun- Yi Tseng is a First-Year medical student at Chang Gung University in Taiwan. Having lived in Singapore since childhood, he enjoys learning about different cultures and languages. He currently volunteers at the Pediatrics ward of Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital and is also a member of the organizing committee for the IFMSA August Meeting 2019 which will be held in Taiwan. He has a special interest in public health and hopes to work with the World Health Organisation one day to help improve healthcare globally.


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