Fiona Armstrong – who will be known to many Croakey readers for her work with the Australian Health Care Reform Alliance – dropped into the NewNews conference this morning.

She was promptly button-holed and asked to make an “unconference” presentation about the Climate and Health Alliance.

Here in roughly edited form is what she told us about this new organisation:

“The idea started a few years ago at an Australian Heathcare and Hospitals Association conference when concern was expressed that climate change wasn’t resonating with the health sector and broader community as a heath issue and that it needed to be made a public policy issue.

The idea was to form an alliance to advocate around not just climate change but also ecological sustainability. The health sector has a huge environmental footprint – not only its carbon emissions but the production of waste and its impact on water quality through the discharge of chemicals out of hospitals and health care centres.

So the idea bubbled away for a while. I hoped someone would pick that up. I was heavily involved in heath reform at the time. It was being pitched as a green health alliance so we just parked it as a good idea.

I was prompted to do something more about it this year, having shifted my attention from health policy to climate policy. I prepared a proposal in May that went out to significant health stakeholders about forming a health sector alliance, looking at what climate science is telling us and the human health risks. Also there was the special report in The Lancet last year which flagged climate change as the biggest global public health issue.

The health sector and health professionals have the capability as well as a responsibility to act and to advocate on this issue.

We’ve formed an alliance of health care professionals, service providers, academics, researchers and health care consumers to look at the environmental impact of the health care sector and of environmental degradation more broadly, and to have these addressed through prompt policy action.

There was considerable interest from within the sector, and we had a face to face meeting on August 4 in Melbourne. We had about 50 people attend, including representatives of all of the major organisational health care stakeholders, including doctors, nurses, allied health profs, social workers, osteopaths, audiologists. The organisations represented included the RACGP, RANZCP, AHHA, ANF, AMA, ACRRM, and Doctors for the Environment.

We have established a temporary executive committee with representatives from the AHHA, PHAA, Doctors for the Environment, the Austraian Rural Health Education Network and the Australian Psychological Society. Around 20 organisations have already declared their support. We will establish an expert expert advisory committee, as a group of critcial friends to test ideas and policy positions with.

We’ve put out media releases about the failure of Australia to develop coherent climate policy in the lead up to the election, trying to raise awareness about the risks to human health, and we want to address the level of climate literacy in the community, which is very poor.

We are creating a network in the sector for people to share ideas, to tell us about what they’re doing. We will be advocating for urgent policy action, collaborating with others to remove barriers to action, to inform heath professionals, policy makers and the communities abut the risks and solutions around health.

The priorities around health are broad: energy, transport, agriculture, water, population, citizen engagement, biodiversity, for eg.”

Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA) has a temporary website here http://climateandhealthalliance.blogspot.com/
Check back in a few weeks to see its permanent home at www.caha.org.au

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