By guest contributor Dr. Renzo Guinto, Section Editor for PLOS Global Public Health’s Planetary and Environmental Health Section
Scientific reports that have been published in recent weeks summarize the alarming situation we are currently in – and I am not referring to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which undoubtedly continues to bring disease and suffering to the world. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC) announced in its Sixth Assessment Report that there is no region of the world that is anymore immune to the negative impacts of climate change. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called this report a “code red” for humanity – which was later reinforced by the 2021 report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change. The WHO also published its own COP26 Health Report, which presented ten policy recommendations for protecting health from the climate crisis. Meanwhile, a new report from the World Bank also presented ways on how the ongoing pandemic response can be made ‘climate-smart.’
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 crisis has overwhelmed national health systems and derailed global health agendas. But the global health sector cannot continue operating business as usual – as if the climate is stable. Worse, the dire situation of the world’s health will be further exacerbated if the climate emergency ensues. We will not only witness future COVID-19 waves, but also tsunamis of climate-induced health challenges if we delay climate action today. We can only hope for ambitious commitments to come out of the COP26 negotiations, but we the health sector cannot rely on lip service and hollow pledges – COVID-19 has shown us what happens next. Hence, the global health sector – as the guardian of the health of the human civilization – must now step up and do its part. Here are five asks for my colleagues in the health professions.
First, every health professional must embrace climate change as a personal and professional issue – affecting practice, patients, and communities. Climate change is a pressing concern not just for ecologists and economists, but for all of us in the health professions. We must with intention acknowledge it as a central part of our healing mission. For centuries, medical professionals have recited the Hippocratic Oath, but unfortunately, we have forgotten that Hippocrates, the Father of Western Medicine, also instructed medical students to study the seasons, the conditions of water, the speed of the wind – and their effects on human health. A good place to start is reciting and internalizing the new Planetary Health Pledge that integrates the care of the planet with that of human patients.
Second, every health profession school must ensure that the curriculum covers the climate crisis, its impacts on health, and the actions that can be done by the health sector to tackle this emergency. Such climate-oriented curriculum will produce the next generation of health professionals who are equipped to deal with climate-sensitive diseases, incorporate environmental sustainability into their practice, and lead low-carbon and climate-resilient healthcare organizations such as hospitals and health ministries. To date, only 15% of the world’s medical schools have incorporated climate change and health into the curriculum. The same situation can be expected from nursing, pharmacy, dentistry, and public health schools. Thankfully, there are platforms where health profession schools can acquire resources and learn techniques on how to teach climate change to health students such as the Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education, Planetary Health Alliance, and International One Health for One Planet (1HOPE) Initiative.
Third, every hospital and healthcare facility must …….