First-ever document to help prepare healthcare workers for climate change impacts released

Experts warn that health sector will be most impacted by climate change and needs guidelines to follow

The first-ever document designed to prepare healthcare workers for conversations around climate change and subsequent health impacts with their patients and communities was released this week. It also will help healthcare workers respond to stakeholders like the media, legislators, policymakers, and other communication channels. 

The document titled, ‘No Vaccine for Climate Change – A Communication Guide on Climate and Health for the Healthcare Professionals in India’ was prepared by the Health Energy Initiative India in collaboration with other health sector organisations. It was discussed extensively in a webinar organized by Climate Trends on Tuesday.

Subject experts from the state health departments of Chhattisgarh and Kerala, State Health Resource Center, Chhattisgarh, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education Research Chandigarh, Punjab University, Health Care Without Harm, Lung Care Foundation, Doctors For You, Medical Students Association of India, Climate Trends, Climate Action Network South Asia and Azim Premji University have contributed to the document. 

Speaking at the launch, Dr Ravikant Singh, founder, Doctors For You, said, “A health worker’s voice is critical in promoting actions that can make a big difference in reducing health inequities — with their patients, in their practice and healthcare institutions, communities and policy arenas. This communication guide is particularly designed to inform health workers. Together, we have a unique opportunity to help people understand that the same pollution that compromises respiratory health also drives climate change, and, more importantly, spread the word to promote carbon-neutral practices and infrastructure in the health sector.”

The idea behind the document

The guidance document is prepared in accordance with the findings of a study that analysed the knowledge, attitude and practice of healthcare professionals on climate change in India. Published in February 2021, the study indicated that while a majority (93%) of health professionals knew about the basics of climate change, only some (55%) of them actively raised awareness or participated in climate change-related activities.

Based on the responses from healthcare professionals, the study recommended effectively building capacity among them and advocates the need to provide nuanced information of the multiple ways in which health could be adversely impacted because of climate change.

It also suggested that climate change and health impacts should be a subject in the medical curriculum for education of healthcare professionals from all streams and specialisations. 

Healthcare professionals should be provided with information and training on the international negotiations on climate treaties, especially the Paris Agreement and detailed information regarding state and national action plans on climate change and human health, it advocated.

A crucial first step in orienting health workers on climate change

The guidance comprises recommendations of the study and provides a broad scope of the health impacts that can be expected from climate-related events such as heat waves, cyclones, thunderstorms and droughts. It is a crucial step in orienting health workers so that they can become trusted communicators on climate change and health impacts.

It also encompasses climate-induced impact on both physical and mental health and provides a template for healthcare professionals to become effective leaders and communicators on the issue.

“It is important for budding doctors like me to hear more about climate change and health in the first three years of our course. This is how it will be ingrained among the young professionals and we will start practising it,” said Dr Mauli Mehta, president, Medical Students Association of India. 

The document prescribes sets of specific actions for potential health-related impacts from climate-induced disasters that healthcare professionals could prescribe to their patients, to communities or to policymakers.

COVID-19 has presented itself as an opportunity for healthcare voices to be heard and amplified through various media. Fighting global health risks and diseases, including outbreaks with pandemic potential, is also, fundamentally, about fighting climate change, the document stated.  

“Health professionals are both trusted communicators and important actors when it comes to protecting public health. It is only fitting, then, that they are equipped with the necessary knowledge and tools to tackle the biggest health challenge of the 21st century, climate change.      ,” said Dr Maria Neira, director, public health, WHO 

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