The climate crisis is a health crisis

Climate change is causing widespread suffering and death due to both direct effects (e.g. heat, flooding) and indirect effects (e.g. air pollution, sanitation, food quantity/quality and infectious diseases). We must now develop mitigation and adaptation strategies to minimize suffering. It depends on capitalizing on everything available to deal with this major crisis. No one should be left behind.

Monash University has extensive experience as both researchers and educators focused on climate-related, human health issues. Through the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, we are developing new research collaborations to accelerate Health and Climate research and education initiatives to impact our local and global community.

Professor Karin Leder, Head of the Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, explains that extreme weather events in 2022 include record-breaking heat waves in India and Pakistan and extreme flooding events affecting Pakistan, Nigeria. , Venezuela, Thailand, Cambodia and elsewhere. Closer to home, in 2022, severe flooding occurred regularly in eastern Australia (in February/March, July and October), resulting in at least two dozen deaths, mostly from drowning and accidents.

Flooding also predisposes us to a number of other health effects, including increased risks of infectious disease. Previously, there was a risk of gastrointestinal diseases when poorly chilled or contaminated food was eaten or contaminated water was consumed. Contact with contaminated flood waters can also cause skin and wound infections. Disease risks associated with animal sources, such as leptospirosis, are also increased. Inhalation of mold can also cause respiratory symptoms.

Next summer we will be prone to increased mosquito populations due to flooding, and with that the risk of mosquito-borne diseases such as Ross River Virus and Barmah Forest Virus. Japanese encephalitis (JE) cases have been reported in southern Australia for the first time in 2022, and JE cases are expected to re-emerge in the coming months given the forecast for a wet summer. Avoiding bites through clothing, insect repellants, insecticides, and screens, as well as limiting mosquito breeding by draining containers and removing trash, is important. JE vaccination is also recommended for residents of high-risk areas.

The psychological distress caused by the loss of homes and livelihoods can have long-lasting mental health effects. The floods also caused difficulties in obtaining medicines, had a major impact on staffing in hospitals and clinics, and caused significant problems in health and other services. The healthcare sector accounts for 7% of national carbon emissions, and climate change poses a major threat to an already overcrowded and stressed healthcare system. These interrelated factors must be urgently addressed by limiting low-value clinical care and improving sustainability in the health sector by reducing consumption of materials, water and energy.

As the race to conserve our finite planetary resources continues, individuals are urgently looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, explains Lisa Barbour, Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food.

Vegetarianism and veganism have gained popularity among people living in high-income countries. However, these eating patterns will not guarantee a reduction in environmental damage. Many animal food alternatives are ultra-processed, especially meat alternatives. Ultra-processed foods are often heavily packaged and have gone through a number of resource-intensive processes during their production.

To eat an ecologically sustainable diet, it is recommended to avoid consuming food in excess of your nutritional requirements, to eat less discretionary foods, which are often nutrient poor, energy-dense and highly processed and packaged; and eat more plant-based foods—sourcing these foods from a supply chain that favors local, in-season, and sustainable production practices.


About Monash University

Monash University is Australia’s largest university with over 80,000 students. In its 60 years of existence, it has built a reputation for world-leading high-impact research, quality teaching and inspiring innovation.

It is one of Australia’s most international universities, with four campuses in Australia and a presence in Malaysia, China, India, Indonesia and Italy.

As a leading international medical research university with Australia’s largest medical school and integration with leading Australian teaching hospitals, we are consistently ranked in the world’s top 50 universities for clinical, preclinical and health sciences.

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