The study found that the Indian health sector is severely under-equipped and under-prepared in dealing with the immediate and long term health impacts of climate change.

Very few Indian medical universities offer routine education in climate change and human health

68.9% of medical schools in India do not have climate change and health as a part of their official medical curriculum, finds a study

While India is one of the most-affected countries by climate change in the world, a study found that 68.9% of medical schools in India don’t teach climate change related health impacts in their curriculum. The study assessed the inclusion of climate and health curriculum among a range of public and private medical schools in India and identified a clear gap in medical education.

The study which represented 76.5% of medical institutions in India, demonstrated the demand and need for climate-health education among medical students in India.

Of 699 respondents, only 19.2% (134) reported that they had received climate-health education and about 25.2% of respondents reported that climate action is included in their medical school strategy. Thirty-one percent of medical schools were reported as having climate-health education, with 25% having had education implemented in their curriculum. 

Of the respondents who stated that their institutions offer climate-health education, 56% (75) stated that climate-health educational offerings have been in place for two or fewer years. Approximately half of respondents reported their medical school partners with a non-academic institution (business, government, non-governmental organisations, etc.) for climate-health education. 

Only 20.9% of medical schools offer a climate-health master or certificate program, with 14.2% offering climate-health doctoral degrees and 13.4% climate-health postdoctoral positions, found the study.

“There was no separate lecture or a dedicated conversation about climate change and health impacts back in college. Generally, we don’t study trends so much, we study diseases, which are the end results of the trend. If anyone is interested, they can explore it on their own but it wasn’t a part of the  curriculum. We were more sensitised about climate change and global warming in our school years. I wish there was more of a climate context to what we were taught in the medical college ,” said Dr Radhika Garg, senior resident, Government Medical College, Amritsar. 

The need for physicians to update clinical guidelines is critical because they can promote evidence-based multi-sector adaptation at the state and national levels. They can work with public health to inform surveillance and early warning systems, create climate resilient health systems, and speak out for blue-green infrastructure solutions.

The study cited some examples like how the health co-benefits of changes in dietary patterns have been reported to reduce disease burden while decreasing water utilisation and reducing carbon emissions from agriculture. A diet with lower amounts of wheat and increased amounts of legumes could reduce water utilisation by up to 30% per person for irrigation and reduce diet-related greenhouse gas emissions, which by 2050, would result in 6,800 life years gained per 100,000 population. Solutions like these can be championed by a well-educated clinical workforce, recommended the study.

The study also found that a climate and health curriculum taught in select institutions made a positive impact on student learning and preparedness, with students reporting higher levels of confidence in tackling multilayered and complex issues such as climate and health.

The study concluded that with only a minority of universities offering routine education in climate change and human health, the Indian health sector is severely under-equipped and under-prepared in dealing with the immediate and long term health impacts of climate change.