Thursday, March 6, 2008

Doing our part: APHA’s virtual climate change summit

As a key activity for this year’s National Public Health Week, APHA hosted a virtual summit on March 4 of invited climate and health experts. Out of that virtual gathering of researchers, advocates and field workers will come a set of recommendations to help guide our nation’s public health work force as they work with their communities to address climate change. The summit discussion centered on the newly released APHA white paper, “Climate Change: Our Health in the Balance: A Charge for Public Health and the Public,” which was written as a jumping board for summit attendees.

And while there was plenty of discussion and the final recommendations have yet to be fully formed, a few things are clear. As the public health community, we are uniquely qualified to spread the word — to the public, to policy-makers and even among ourselves — about the significant impacts that climate changes will have on our health.

So, from our computers to yours, here’s a rundown of APHA’s virtual climate change summit:

APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin opened the summit, setting the stage for why the public health community has a critical role in the climate change movement. Benjamin also spoke of APHA’s leadership role in helping not only public health workers connect the climate change-health dots, but in helping the public see that climate change will affect us all, where we live, work and play.

Having dialed into the summit from across the country, experts engaged in a lively discussion and debate, provided critical feedback and then voted on a list of 39 potential recommendations aimed at both public health professionals and the public in general. All in all, the summit was a success — APHA got the information needed to develop reasonable and useful recommendations, and National Public Health Week will soon have another tool to help push public health’s voice to the forefront of the climate change dialogue.

Next up, APHA will take feedback gathered at the summit and whittle the recommendations down to a useful list — something that public health workers will be able to use during National Public Health Week activities, and hopefully beyond, to reach out and share with their communities. The final list of recommendations will be officially released during National Public Health Week.

As a side note, kudos to APHA for adopting two of the key recommendations when it decided to hold the summit virtually: to “green” our work practices and lead by example.

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