As we kick off National Public Health Week, we join the World Health Organization in focusing on climate change and health. And we cannot afford to wait to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of climate change around the globe.
Over the past several years, we have seen a major focus on public health preparedness for disasters, terrorism and other public health emergencies. It’s time for climate change to join the list.
Climate change poses risks to human health in many ways, from severe weather events and the emergence of new disease patterns, to impacts on food and water supplies. Additionally, we know that already vulnerable populations will face an even higher risk of suffering poor health effects under climate change’s impacts.
This year, we saw unprecedented numbers of tornadoes in the mid-portion of the United States during the month of February, with resultant damage to homes and infrastructures. In recent summers, we have seen heat waves in large cities leading to multiple heat-related deaths, particularly among elderly persons who were unable to leave their homes to seek shelter in cooler places. We do not yet know how climate change may affect the spread of disease, but we do know that it is likely to affect animal species and their migration patterns and geographic distribution.
However, the work that we have done in preparing for disasters and other public health emergencies can help us in addressing problems that we are seeing related to climate change. We can use the knowledge and skills that we have developed to improve surveillance of emerging diseases and the health effects of climate change; provide temporary shelter for people who are evacuated from their homes, including those who have complex health problems or impairments that restrict their ability to perform daily activities; and to communicate effectively with our communities about preparedness, risks and mitigation of severe weather events.
We will not easily solve the problems created by climate change, but we can prepare for its health effects and work to ensure that we are protecting the health of all people.
Sign on to the Health Climate Pledge today and agree to do your part to “be prepared” for climate change.
Linda C. Degutis, DrPH, MSN