Doctors are warning that climate change is already affecting people's health

Doctors in Australia are warning that by 2020 there will be a growing number of illnesses related to climate change.

A report by Doctors for the Environment is warning that a plethora of health issues will appear as a result of floods, droughts, rising seas and higher temperatures caused by climate change.

The report 'Climate Change Health Check 2020' reviews the latest research on climate and health and was compiled by Doctors for the Environment Australia for The Climate Institute.

The report warns that the elderly and children will be among the hardest hit and says the health system needs to be prepared for increased rates of climate change-related illness in the population.

The report comes ahead of the World Health Organisation's World Health Day on the 7th April, which has the theme "protecting health from climate change" and calls for improved health strategies to reduce the disastrous impacts of climate change.

The report predicts a growing incidence of heat stress, heat related illness, trauma from extreme weather changes and infectious diseases.

Co-author Dr. Graeme Horton says climate change is already a reality and is set to become a key challenge for the health system over the coming decade.

Dr. Graeme Horton, who is a GP in Newcastle, says the health system will come under increasing stress and the greatest impact will be in rural, regional, remote and indigenous communities, who will face more climatic extremes and problems with food and freshwater supplies.

The report says the health impacts to be expected include:

  • Increased incidence of heat stress and heat-related illness - including those affecting the heart, blood vessels and lungs

  • More allergic diseases, gastroenteritis (food poisoning) and mosquito-transmitted diseases such as Dengue fever and Ross River virus

  • Increased trauma from extreme weather events like drought and natural disasters

  • Spiraling demand for aid from our neighbours to care for environmental refugees and dislocated communities

Dr. Grant Blashki from the University of Melbourne's Department of General Practice, says health care needs to be responsive to the health needs of the community and effective health strategies will require strong collaboration between Government, health professionals and the community sector.

Dr. Blashki says planning in future will need to take into account the climate change impacts in areas such as disaster preparedness, monitoring of infectious diseases and supporting communities affected by long term drought.

The report has the endorsement of the Royal College of GPs and has been welcomed by the Australian Medical Association.

They say doctors are becoming increasingly concerned about potential health impacts of climate change and the report highlights the potentially serious impacts on health systems from climate change and the need to be fully prepared.

The Climate Institute was established in 2005 and has a five-year goal of raising public awareness and debate about the dangers to Australia of global warming and to motivate the country to take positive action.

It is a non-partisan, independent group that works with community, business and government to drive innovative and effective climate change solutions. We research. We educate. We communicate.

The Climate Institute is funded by a donation from the Poola Foundation.

More information on World Health Day can be found on the web site, http://www.who.int/world-health-day

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The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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