The importance to combat climate change and environmental pollution to protect human health in Europe

By Bartolomeo Buscema

Healthcare in Europe is provided through a wide range of different systems run at individual national levels. There is a need to harmonize all national systems in order to achieve best practices together with economical results. In this scenery, about six hundred  of  European health policy experts , member of civil society, academia and business  from across Europe met at the annual 2019 European Health Forum Gastein (2-4 October 2019, Austria) explored disruptive proposals  to enhance  health  level  based mainly on artificial intelligence,  economy  strategies  concerning well-being  and to combat  climate change  to limit its effect on  citizens.

Many topics  have been deal with, among them: data for safer care ( digital solutions and surveillance systems for patient safety),toward economy of well-being, vaccine ecosystem health check, obesity  and cancer  guidelines in Europe. Besides, ministers and high-level representatives from EU Member States, experts of  the European Commission joined the discussions  outlining  their  near term  visions  for the future of health. Other topics were the power of digital technologies, developing effective vaccines campaigns to decrease vaccine hesitancy and harmful effects of climate change on health. In this article , we  focus on the latter  topic  underlining  the undeniable effect on people’s health, which is rapidly becoming a public health emergency.

As the fifth-highest emitter of pollution, the healthcare sector is responsible for 4.7% of carbon emissions, which underscores the need for significant measures to achieve zero carbon emissions in Europe. Hospitals, healthcare professionals, industry, and patients must all take radical steps to reduce their carbon footprint. Moreover, the effects of climate change on public health are significant and far-reaching, with increased risks of infectious diseases, allergies, and heat-related illnesses, particularly affecting older and poorer people. Such effects also have consequences on the labor market, as annual working hours decrease. In this regard, it is worth noting that Douglaston urgent care and other healthcare facilities in Europe are better equipped to manage the impacts of climate change, especially among vulnerable populations. However, the same cannot be said for other regions such as Africa, where the effects of climate change are more severe and disproportionately affect poorer people. To address this, the European Union must take on a more active role and assume responsibility for helping people in other parts of the world by promoting and implementing best practices and adaptation measures to mitigate the disruptive effects of the rapid increase in global temperatures.

In recent years our understanding of climate-health relationships has increased rapidly and  consequently our understanding of how the disruption of biophysical and ecological systems due to climate change might affect the longer-term wellbeing and health of populations. It is worthwhile to underline that Climate change can affect human health directly (e.g., impacts of thermal stress, death/injury in floods and storms) and indirectly through changes in the ranges of disease vectors (e.g., mosquitoes), water-borne pathogens, water quality, air quality, and food availability and quality. For this scope, it is crucial to cut  greenhouse emissions sufficiently to keep temperature increase below 1,5°C above pre-industrial level   going toward  to decarbonising the economy as a result of reduced air pollution. Solutions ,of course,  must be implemented taking into account  present knowledge and in this respect the scientific community  should be played an important role in  countering misinformation on the health effects of climate change and in wide spreading  the best solutions adaptation and mitigation strategies. This should be done, in close collaboration with decision makers and politicians. Starting from the Paris Climate Agreement, which also is the most important public health agreement of this century, we need to decrease emissions from fossil fuel combustion and consequently reduce air pollution, which causes 600.000 deaths in European region every year. During the forum it has been stated that if member States would honor the commitments of the Paris Climate Agreement, we would prevent 180.000 yearly deaths in the region.

Photos: credit Bartolomeo Buscema

 Bartolomeo Buscema is science journalist and science writer, UGIS, Italy



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