The Environmental Medicine Commission was created* – Commerce and Justice

By the Council of Doctors of the Province of Córdoba

With the conviction – as expressed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) – that climate change is the greatest threat to global health of the 21st Century, on March 5, the Board Board created the Environmental Medicine Commission. Its objective is to propose and articulate actions regarding climate emergencies and extreme heat, generating knowledge, information and awareness in the medical and health community, as well as in society. The commission is made up of doctors Hugo Luis Pizzi, Nilda del Valle Gait and Gabriel Esteban Avecedo and the participation of Dr. Mario Vignolo, representing the Board of Directors. (Compilation: Luis Rodeiro. Interview Alejandra Beresovsky)

*Note published in the institutional magazine ETHICA DIGITAL of the Medical Council, April 2024 edition

Background

The topic was maturing. In our edition of ETHICA DIGITAL, corresponding to the month of November 2023, we report on an international debate on the immediate effects of the climate change that we are experiencing on the health of the population, which was carried out, via zoom, in our institutional headquarters and that was an important contribution in understanding its dimension. There, Dr. María Neira, Director of Climate and Environment at the WHO, expressed that today “in the world, we have more than seven million deaths annually due to the effects of climate change.” It is essential, she pointed out, that hospitals and care centers in general are adapted for care. “Extreme heat will confront us, as doctors, with new challenges and we must be prepared and empowered to face the situation.

In turn, the president of our Medical Council, Dr. Héctor Rolando Oviedo, assured that for the professional entity this is a priority issue. “Science and, especially, medical science has shown that global warming through extreme heat has been affecting health in urban areas, both in terms of morbidity and mortality.” Today, the new Environmental Medicine Commission is already operating.

From left to right, Dr. Mario Vignolo, Dr. Hugo Pizzi, Dr. Nilda del Valle Gait, Dr. Gabriel Esteban Acevedo. Members of the Environmental Medicine Commission of the Council of Physicians of the Province of Córdoba

Basics

On August 5, by Resolution of the Board of Directors, the creation of this new Commission was made official, whose purpose will be to propose and articulate actions regarding the climate emergency and extreme heat, generating knowledge, information and awareness in the medical and health community. as well as in society about the relevance of the problem for life, health and the planet.

The document states that it has been taken into consideration:

  • The Lancet Countdown Report made public in 2018 on health and climate change, where it was declared that this change “is the greatest global health threat of the 21st century.”
  • The contribution of the world’s leading medical journal, New England Journal of Medicine, which in 2019, offered readers “a collection of articles and other resources that describe the effects of climate change on physical and psychological health and on the function of health care systems, including resources to support the action of physicians and other health professionals.
  • The alert issued in 2021 by the World Health Organization (WHO) about the disturbances caused by the climate and the growing tensions derived from phenomena such as changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, droughts, floods and rising sea levels that have a negative impact on the environmental and social determinants of physical and mental health.
  • The conclusions of the specialists indicate that all aspects of health are affected by this change. From unpolluted air, water and soil, to food systems and livelihoods.
  • Widespread awareness that further delays in the fight against climate change will increase health risks, undermine decades of global health improvements and run counter to our collective commitments to guarantee everyone the human right to health.
  • Take into account and act accordingly that our country adopted the National Health and Climate Change Strategy (ENSyCC), developed within the framework of the National Climate Change Cabinet (GNCC), in a process led by the National Risk Reduction Program for Health Associated with Climate Change and which integrates the National Plan for Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change (PNAyMCC), which synthesizes the national climate policy and contains the set of strategies, measures, policies and instruments to be implemented until 2030, to comply with Law 27520 on Minimum Budgets for Adaptation and Mitigation to Global Climate Change, and thus assume commitments through its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) presented by the country before the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Climate Change (UNFCCC) in recent years.
  • The awareness that today there is a global deficit in training, knowledge and understanding of the new components that impact health, illness and the practice of medicine, which is why medical training and research entities face a new challenge: to include topics, such as climate change and health, in their study plans that allow knowledge of the issues of climate emergency, extreme heat and humidity. That answer is crucial for clinicians, as they have clear implications for clinical practice and healthcare delivery.

The Board of Directors Document, in turn, considers that, in the past year, the world experienced situations that cannot be ignored:

  • That the highest global temperatures in many years occurred, breaking heat records on all continents until 2022;
  • That adults over 65 years of age and infants under 1 year of age, for whom extreme heat can be particularly life-threatening, are currently exposed to twice as many heat wave days as they would have experienced between 1986 and 2005;
  • That medicine is a humanitarian profession, and that doctors must not stop thinking about the great humanitarian and health crisis that is knocking at the door and is driven by the ongoing global warming of our planet;
  • That we need to act urgently and raise awareness among health specialist colleagues and the general public about the detrimental effects of the climate crisis;
  • That as change occurs, it is necessary for doctors to analyze diseases with a solid understanding of climate-related impacts on human health;
  • That the effects of climate change are also being felt on our health staff and infrastructure, and reduces the ability to provide Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

The detailed situation chart**

  • Health is and will be affected by climate changes through direct impacts (heat waves, droughts, severe storms and sea level rise) and indirect impacts (respiratory and vector-borne diseases, food insecurity and of water, malnutrition and forced displacement.
  • Change is not just a problem for future generations, it is already happening. And the most affected are and will be – if we do nothing – vulnerable groups, such as children, the elderly, pregnant women, people with disabilities, those with chronic illnesses and those who are homeless.
  • Worldwide, looking at just a few health indicators, an additional 250,000 deaths per year will occur in the coming decades as a result of climate change.
  • For both the WHO and the OPN, the health sector has an important role to play in calling for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that are the cause of climate change. The situation requires investments to green; health care facilities, with the use of solar panels, energy efficient equipment and waste management. According to 2 Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) globally, only about 0.5% of multilateral climate financing has been attributed to health projects.
  • Health care facilities also need to be safe and remain operational during and after disasters. In the Americas, 67% of health care facilities are located in disaster-prone areas. In the last decade, 24 million people were left without access to health care for months due to infrastructure damage.
  • Addressing climate change requires significant efforts to address health and well-being and requires concerted efforts by health authorities and other stakeholders to create climate-resilient health systems that can anticipate, prepare, prevent, respond. and recover quickly from climate risks.

Note: all data that is recorded in a timely manner are based on documents and reports produced by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).


Effects of climate change on health

The WHO data must be thoroughly known, not only by doctors, but by health authorities, social organizations, political structures and, most especially, by society.

There are immediate effects such as injuries, illnesses and deaths due to extreme weather phenomena, which translates into worsening circulatory and respiratory diseases and greater suffering for disadvantaged citizens.

There are indirect effects through natural systems: increased exposure to aeroallergens; the presence of particles and high atmospheric concentration of very toxic ozone; increase in unreliable food and water; persistence and transmission of pathogenic microbes.

There are indirect effects through socio-economic systems that manifest themselves in malnutrition, infectious diseases, stunting and wasting in children, decreased work capacity, risks of burnout, cardiac arrest and accidents for those who work outdoors. Added to this is the multiplication of greater suffering for the elderly, children and those living in poor environments, more stress and mental illness.

 
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