Climate change has been stated as the biggest threat to global public health in the 21st century (1). With temperatures rising closer to the ‘no return point’, taking action to mitigate this global emergency is a matter of now or never. If such is the case, then why is this not identified as a global priority by all states and their governments? The answer lies in the fact that the heaviest health burden from climate change will rest upon the poorest communities. The countries with ‘weak healthcare infrastructure will be least able to cope..’ (2). Ironically, these are the people least responsible for the problem. Inevitably this will lead to greater health inequity around the world.
There is no surprise in the fact that the environment we live in has a direct effect on our mental and physical health. Epidemiological research shows that high air temperatures are causing an increased burden of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and reports of flash flooding and heatwaves are becoming more common in the daily news. However, the global impact is even more severe. Variable rainfall causes drought, famine and more catastrophic extreme weather events, forcing migration and fatalities; contaminated freshwater compromises hygiene, increasing the incidence of water-borne diseases and creating breeding grounds for disease-carrying insects. These effects will affect our health and healthcare systems. It is estimated that the direct damage costs to health will be between 2-4 Billion US dollars per year by 2030 (2).
There is then no surprise that Students for Global Health U.K, an organization that aims to ‘strive for a fair and just world in which equity in health is a reality for all’, decided to adopt ‘Climate change and Health’ as our co-ordinated theme this year- an initiative that aims to coordinate and support all 32 branches to deliver events and campaigns.
Our first conference of the year focused on Climate change and health as well. The conference ‘Vital signs: Our planet, our health’, had three main aims:
- Educate our members with knowledge about the causes of increasing climate change; the impact of climate change on health and the possible local, national and global solutions to mitigate climate change.
- Advocate for a change in lifestyle and culture that allows us to live in harmony with our environment rather than us destroying it.
- Encourage and Inspire members to take action that goes beyond personal lifestyle change and includes holding our political and business leaders accountable for their policies and practices that are endangering the future of our planet and our health.
We achieved these aims through a series of plenary talks and breakout sessions addressing issues as diverse as Emerging vector-borne diseases, Air Pollution & Cities and How to debate with climate change skeptics.
While we are proud of the impact the conference has had on everyone involved, we have certainly not finished. SfGH-UK will maintain a long-term commitment to education, advocacy and action around the climate change agenda through our Coordinated Theme.