Doctors call for action on climate change Media Release

Apr 04, 2008 - 11:12am

Australian doctors have warned of a growing incidence of climate change-related illness by 2020– and that the elderly and children will be among the hardest hit.

The report, titled Climate Change Health Check 2020, summarizes latest research on climate and health. It was prepared for The Climate Institute by Doctors for the Environment Australia.

The report was endorsed by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

The report was launched on the eve of the World Health Organisation’s World Health Day on 7 April, which has the theme “protecting health from climate change”.

The report says that improved health strategies would be required to reduce the disastrous impacts of climate change – including a growing incidence of heat stress, heat related illness, trauma from extreme weather changes and infectious diseases.

“Climate change is already a reality in our waiting rooms and surgeries – and is set to become a key challenge for our health system over the coming decade,” report co-author Dr Graeme Horton, a Newcastle-based GP said today.

“Clearly, climate change will place our health system under increasing stress – and as always the elderly, children and the vulnerable will be hardest hit.

“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,” Dr Horton said.

Some of the health impacts described in the report 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, of the University of Melbourne Department of General Practice, said that health care needed to be responsive to the health needs of the community and planning for climate change should be part of every future deliberation.

“Effective health strategies will require strong collaboration between Government, health professionals and the community sector,” Dr Blashki said.

“Future medical workforce planning will need to take account of a climate change impacts in areas such as disaster preparedness, monitoring of infectious diseases and supporting communities affected by long term drought,” Dr Blashki said.

Dr Vasantha Preetham, President of the Royal College of GPs endorsed the report.

“GPs are becoming increasingly concerned about potential health impacts of climate change,” Dr Preetham said.

“Our profession will be on the frontline of managing any impacts.  We are keen to work with our patients and others in the community to raise awareness and work towards solutions,” Dr Vasantha Preetham said.

Dr Rosanna Capolingua, President of the Australian Medical Association, has also welcomed the report.

“The Climate Change Health Check 2020 report highlights that human health is ultimately dependent on the health of the planet,” Dr Capolingua said.

“Climate change will have potentially serious impacts on health systems around the world. This report reinforces the AMA’s view that the Australian health system needs to be fully prepared for these impacts now,” Dr Capolingua said.

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

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