climate change

Dec 16, 2012

Some suggestions for how health services can help respond to climate change


Melissa Sweet — Health journalist and <a href=Croakey co-ordinator" class="author__portrait">

Melissa Sweet

Health journalist and Croakey co-ordinator

The previous post calls on leaders in health research and policy to respond urgently to the threats of climate change.

In the article below, a doctor working in remote Aboriginal health makes some practical suggestions for how health services might take action, including by making environmental considerations part of health service performance reporting.


Putting climate change on the agenda of health services

Dr Rosalie Schultz writes:

As a doctor working in Aboriginal health, I am challenged personally and professionally by the threat of climate change. Yet I feel impotent to respond.

I see two barriers to action: competing demands, including clinical, management and financial imperatives that confront us; and my own lack of professional education in the fundamental issues of climate change.

Aboriginal health organisations face burdensome reporting to funding bodies so we can continue to exist and provide health services to Aboriginal people.

However, we don’t report on action on climate change, and I believe that few health professionals would have appropriate training to report on climate change if this was a requirement.

As a result, the health risks associated with climate change are easily discounted by people working in the Aboriginal health sector. This is likely to be true for people working throughout all health care services.

The health risks faced by remote Indigenous people in a changing climate may exacerbate their disadvantage. Remote Aboriginal Australians may suffer more than other Australians from climate change.

With climate change we may all face increasing temperatures, extreme weather events, deteriorating water supplies and increasing food costs. Remote Aboriginal Australians are already disadvantaged by remoteness, poor health, inadequate infrastructure, lack of educational and employment opportunities, and low incomes. As a result they may fare worse and see their disadvantage increasing.

Our organisations’ reporting frameworks ignore what I believe are critical questions:

  • Could we monitor and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions through reporting on energy use?
  • Would recruitment and retention suffer if staff were not entitled to private motor vehicle use?
  • Should we consider environmental impacts of our services including production and disposal of supplies?
  • Should nutritional counselling include advice environmental impacts of food production?
  • Dare we raise the issue of the impact of rapidly increasing human populations on the environment?
  • Should we encourage families to consider a global perspective in their decisions about family size?

None of these questions is asked in our daily duties, or monthly or annual reporting. Rarely are they discussed even among like-minded colleagues.

Yet the threat of climate change to health is real and imminent. I am concerned that disadvantaged people will fare worst in a changing climate.

I believe we need new reporting requirements that include climate change indicators.  However, in order for health organisations to report meaningfully on these indicators, our educational curricula need to include climate change issues.

When health professionals have a comprehensive understanding of climate change issues, and our reporting includes environmental indicators, then the health sector will take necessary leadership on climate change.

I believe that health professionals should be leading in developing strategies for mitigation and adaptation to reduce the impact of climate change on our clients and community.

However, our lack of relevant education, and reporting requirements that are limited to funds and particular projects, are barriers to effective action on climate change.

Meanwhile, the detrimental effects of a changing climate may increase the burden of disease we will be required to manage over the coming decades.

• Dr Rosalie Schultz is Director of Clinical Services at Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation at Tennant Creek in the NT. These are her personal views.


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Leave a comment

2 thoughts on “Some suggestions for how health services can help respond to climate change

  1. GeorgeCrisp

    Scott, you have missed the point.

    The article is about income inequality and a range of factors that determine health that will be compromised by climate change.

    If we carry on blindly busying ourselves with the immediate and the short term, we will inevitably be swamped by the unmanageable consequence of unmitigated climate change.

    Making all our other health efforts in vain.

  2. Scott

    Yes, because what aboriginal health requires is a focus on climate change…please.
    Focus on nutrition and substance abuse, dr. Or if you want the one thing that will lift health outcomes, focus on income inequality and education.

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