Health Care Sector to Play Key Role in Climate Change
April 20, 2012 – The health care sector can play an important role in lessening, reversing and adapting to the effects of global climate change, according to an environmental health scholar at Georgetown University.
Laura Anderko, the Robert and Kathleen Scanlon Chair in Values Based Health Care at the School of Nursing & Health Studies, is the lead author of “Climate Change and Health: Is There a Role for the Health Care Sector?”
The piece, recently published by the Catholic Health Association of the United States, offers an overview of climate change and explores ways the health care field can respond.
Burden of Illness
Global climate change is expected to affect health in a variety of ways, such as heat-related illnesses, poor birth outcomes, malnutrition and food security, water quality and infectious disease.
“Populations who are at greatest risk and considered most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change lack the ability to cope with the consequences of climate change,” the authors write.
That includes children, pregnant women, older adults and the underserved.
The paper’s co-authors are Stephanie Chalupka, professor and chair at the Worcester State University’s nursing department, and Brenda Afzal, former U.S. climate policy coordinator for Health Care Without Harm.
Health Care Response
Health care professionals and the health care sector as a whole can make a difference, the authors say.
As trusted conveyors of health information for patients, community members and policymakers, health providers have an important role, and, some might say, a moral and professional responsibility to act.
“Providers must advocate for mitigation and prevention of climate change through institutional and national policies such as reducing air pollution and partnering with communities to cope with anticipated health impacts,” Anderko says.
For example, hospitals can incorporate green building and smart landscaping into design and work to reduce water consumption.
“Health professionals are trusted by society worldwide,” the authors write. “They must honor the trust covenant they have with those they serve by advocating for policies and practices that will help to mitigate and adapt to climate change.”
Anderko says it is also critical that health care facilities consider proper site locations of new facilities to contain urban sprawl and reduce automobile dependence, use alternative fuels for hospital vehicles, reduce hospital energy consumption through conservation measures and provide sustainably grown local food that focuses on a plant-based diet.
A Changing World
“Our world is changing,” the authors write. “Human activities are causing environmental changes of epic proportions.”
They point to extreme weather events such as heat waves, melting of snow and ice with rising sea levels, changes in precipitation resulting in flooding and drought, more intense hurricanes and storms, wildfires and poorer air quality.
“In recent years, more than two billion people worldwide have been directly impacted by natural disasters related to weather phenomena including floods, droughts, heat waves and extreme cold,” the publication says.