Health leaders implore government to do more, from a public health standpoint.
Think of climate change, you probably think of melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels, crazy weather and environmental havoc. While the health of Planet Earth is usually the biggest factor, it’s not often that the health of the human race enters significantly into the discussion.
A roundtable forum of public health leaders in Canberra hopes to change that, and to place health at the forefront of Australia’s action on climate change.
The Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA), along with a number of healthcare and nursing groups, hosted the meeting of around 40 professionals in Parliament House. Assistant Health Minister Ken Wyatt, Shadow Health Minister, Catherine King, and Greens leader Richard Di Natale attended, hearing about how climate change is a “public health emergency”, according to CAHA executive director Fiona Armstrong.
There has been advocacy on climate change over several years, but we’re concerned that as the issue becomes more urgent, there has been a failure to reflect the concerns of the health sector in climate policy decisions,” she told The Huffington Post Australia.
“The health sector is committed to a public policy response. We’d like to work with the government to get a solution, beginning a discussion about what a public health framework would like.”
Armstrong said climate change was about more than rising sea levels, that there are obvious — and less obvious — health implications. Continuing to burn fossil fuels for energy causes air pollution, leading to asthma and other respiratory problems; that’s a clear one. Heatwaves leading to heat stroke, exhaustion and heat stress are another. However, wild and rapidly changing weather events can wreak massive devastation and cause huge health issues, such as Hurricane Matthew in Haiti and Florida just this week where more than 1000 were reported dead.
“Health impacts of climate change are very diverse. There are direct impacts and then the less direct, but it is is being described as the greatest threat to public health,” Armstrong said.
“It’s being emphasised by the World Health Organisation, and we’re urging all governments to take action on climate change. To be frank, its a public health emergency.”
A recent report by CAHA found that Australia’s health community thought the country was underprepared for the challenge of climate change-related health issues. It found that 52 percent of health professionals considered the government’s direct action plan ‘not at all effective’; 78 percent thought Australia’s climate policies were not consistent with our international obligations, including the Paris Agreement; and that 98 percent agreed Australia needed to develop a national strategy on climate, health and well-being.
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