The 2018 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change stated that “climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. In 2019, the world’s leading medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine, provided readers with “a collection of articles and other resources describing effects of climate change on physical and psychological health and on the function of health care systems, including resources to support action by physicians and other health care professionals”.
Last year, we saw a number of interconnected crises changing our ways of living, in particular a health crisis triggered by the COVID19 pandemic, a climate crisis and a biodiversity crisis.
Spyridon P. Dourakis, the President of the Hellenic Society of Environmental and Climate Medicine (HSECM) and Professor of Medicine at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens has said:
“It is more than clear that the most recent pandemic of COVID-19 confirmed the inauguration of a New Era in Medicine; The Era of Climate Medicine that will change the data, and along with Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), will constitute the cornerstone for the practice of Medicine in the 21st century”.
At the same time, developing countries in Southwest Asia, in the Arabian Peninsula and in East Africa suffer the dual perils of SARS-CoV2 and a dreadful locust plague, attributed to an accentuated Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) phenomenon driven by climate change. Swarm effects will be detrimental for human health, and not only in terms of allergies and asthma development or exacerbation. Food security, which is already threatening survival in these regions of the world, is likely to drive millions of people into a state of famine and malnutrition.
Since medicine is a humanitarian profession, physicians should not turn their heads away from a major humanitarian and health crisis that is right on our doorstep and is fueled by the ongoing global warming of our planet. We need to act urgently and raise awareness among fellow health specialists and the public about the detrimental effects of the climate crisis. As climate change is making its presence felt more and more, and as global warming is expected to reach 1.5oC in the next decades if temperatures continue to increase at the current rate, it is necessary for physicians to look at diseases with a sound understanding of climate-related impacts on human health.
The HSECM is a scientific, nonprofit, nongovernmental organization founded by Greek physicians in February 2020. Its mission is to make widely known to physicians and to the public the health effects of climate change.
Over the past years we have seen the emergence of new, deadly infectious diseases; the admission to the Emergency units of dehydrated patients suffering with heat stroke, mainly people from a low socio-economic status and ethnic minorities with no or limited access to air-conditioning; the rise in the incidence of cancers due to high levels of air pollution; and the loss of access to healthcare units due to natural disasters such as wildfires or snowstorms. These are just some of the consequences of a bleeding planet, that will have a huge impact on peoples’ health and our communities.
Social inequities and environmental conflicts need to be addressed with no delay, now.
We have a vision of a society where the awareness of climate change impacts on human health will lead each one of us to adopt ways to mitigate climate impacts, contributing to reduce the number of estimated climate change-related deaths in the future. We believe that “Every life counts and every death is devastating” and, at a time when the connection between health and climate is more important than ever, we set the goal of adding “Climate Medicine” as a critical study topic to curricula across Greece’s Clinical and Academic Medicine institutions.
We are in this together. Climate change mitigation cannot rely on individual initiatives, but requires team efforts. That is why we are pleased to have joined the Global Climate and Health Alliance and we are looking forward to work together with a remarkable and valuable ally. We encourage all GCHA members to contact us and join forces to work towards our common goal, tackling the climate crisis and human health as one issue.
You can find out more about our initiatives at www.climatemed.com. You can also follow us at: https://www.facebook.com/Hellenic-Society-of-Environmental-and-Climate-Medicine-114381793550936.
GCHA new member guest blog by Charalampia V. Geladari, MD, PhD, Founder of HSECM; Eleni. Geladari, MD, Co-Founder of HSECM; Nikolaos E. Evangelinakis, MD, MSc, PhD, Chief Executive Officer of HSECM