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Climate Change: A Growing Threat to Public Health

February 15, 2024
February 15, 2024

As healthcare continues to evolve at breakneck speed, staying ahead of the curve is crucial for leaders. HealthStream's annual white paper, authored by industry expert Robin Rose, MHA, identifies the top ten trends poised to reshape the landscape in the coming year. This blog series delves into each trend.

Climate Change: A Growing Threat to Public Health

Climate change is no longer a distant threat; it's a present-day reality impacting our health in significant ways. From heat stress and air pollution to the spread of infectious diseases, the environment is throwing unprecedented challenges at public health systems worldwide.

The Growing Impact of Climate Change on Health:

  • Climate-driven health problems: Rising temperatures, extreme weather events, and environmental changes are triggering a range of health problems, including:
    • Respiratory and cardiovascular disease: Air pollution from wildfires and heat stress increase the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular issues.
    • Infectious diseases: Warmer temperatures and changing weather patterns create favorable conditions for the spread of disease-carrying mosquitoes and other vectors, leading to outbreaks of diseases like malaria, dengue, and West Nile virus.
    • Mental health: Climate change can exacerbate existing mental health conditions and trigger new ones due to the stress and anxiety associated with environmental disasters and displacement.
  • Vulnerable populations: Certain populations are disproportionately affected by climate change related health risks, including children, older adults, low-income communities, and people with pre-existing health conditions. • Healthcare infrastructure at risk: Climate-related disasters like floods and hurricanes can damage healthcare infrastructure, disrupting service delivery and leaving communities without access to essential care.

The Need for Urgent Action:

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) paints a sobering picture: an additional 250,000 deaths per year in the next decade due to climate change, and millions more left without access to healthcare following disasters (PAHO, 2023).

The healthcare sector needs to urgently adapt to the growing challenges of climate change. This requires:

  • Increased investment in research and surveillance: We need to better understand the health impacts of climate change and develop effective prevention and treatment strategies.
  • Building resilient healthcare systems: Healthcare facilities need to be prepared for climate-related disasters, with backup power sources, stockpiles of essential supplies, and contingency plans in place.
  • Promoting public awareness and education: Individuals can take steps to protect their health from the impacts of climate change, such as staying hydrated during heat waves and reducing their exposure to air pollution.
  • Addressing the root cause: Ultimately, we need to tackle climate change at its source by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to a clean energy future.

The health sector has a critical role to play in addressing the challenges of climate change. By working together, we can build a more resilient and sustainable future where everyone has access to the healthcare they need, regardless of the environmental challenges they face.

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Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), “Climate Change and Health,” World Health Organization, 2023, www.paho.org/en/topics/climate-change-and-health.