Planetary health and environment for poor populations: how can health professionals help?

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Giovanni Gosch Berton, a 19-year-old Brazilian medical student, currently in the first year of medical school at the University of Passo Fundo. He is affiliated with 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.

Planetary health is the point where the environment intersects with our own health. It’s probably impossible that you don’t know someone who suffers from respiratory issues, and you are probably aware that it’s closely linked to air pollution and life in big cities. Although that’s important and easily associated by most people, there are other types of health problems concerning the environment we don’t think about as much as we should.

Those problems are also found mostly in big centers and metro areas, majorly affecting emerging economies, those are social inequality, poverty, favelas, and crowded urban conglomerates. Therefore in those conglomerates of penury people frequently doesn’t even have treated water to drink, human stool can be found on the ground because there is no sanitation, and of course, diseases spread through the air, through the food, and also through pets and other non desired animals living there in extremely concerning conditions.

Here we see another side of planetary health, it’s the intersection of the environment and Social Determinants of Health. Poor areas of a country are located in such a shocking environment that it’s utopian to think its residents will look at planetary health with the same points of view as a person who lives in a well-established environment with lots of trees to take care of, money to spend on health and healthy food and habits. For vulnerable people, planetary health seems to relate to a whole other planet. For them, a healthy environment could only mean having the basic conditions a middle-classed person has.

Well, but how can health professionals make this situation better? In my opinion, basic treatment for those diseases affecting the poor population is treated with less importance than diseases affecting wealthy or middle classed people. So health professionals could take a closer look at the forgotten diseases affecting forgotten populations. Voluntary work is an option to delivering health and helping that population because as long as we can’t change their environment or their Social Determinants of Health, we can provide better care for them, talk to them and be able to lessen their risk of contracting treatable diseases and dying because of the lack of resources they have and the lack of attention their environment of living receives. We can change their “planet’s health” by only taking a closer look at it.

About the author

Giovanni Gosch Berton is a 19-year-old Brazilian medical student, currently in the first year of medical school at the University of Passo Fundo. Passo Fundo is the city where he was born, in the southernmost state of Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul. Giovanni is also LEO of IFMSA Brazil (International Federation of Medical Students’ Association of Brazil) at the University of Passo Fundo (UPF) and 2nd Scientific Director of the academic league on Neuropsychiatry of the Hospital of Clinics of Passo Fundo.

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