Doctors call for action on climate change ahead of election

Morgan Liotta

8/05/2019 11:48:52 AM

GPs are being urged to show their support for action on climate change by backing a child-focused campaign.

Dr Tim Senior
Dr Tim Senior believes GPs are in a position to engage with the Government to tackle climate change issues.

The Doctors for the Environment Australia’s (DEA) No Time for Games campaign stems from a report of the same name that highlights the health harms that children currently experience, and will increasingly experience, if climate change is not addressed.

‘Children are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change because their behaviour exposes them to increased risks, their bodies respond differently to harms, and they are dependent on others,’ the report states.
Along with the report and RACGP-endorsed campaign, the DEA has launched the No Time for Games pledge. It wants health practitioners to sign the pledge for delivery to leaders on both sides of politics during the Federal Election campaign.
Dr Tim Senior, a GP with a special interest in environmental issues and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, believes the election provides a key opportunity for practitioners to advocate on climate change.
‘Federal elections are times when it is possible to get the ear of politicians on issues that affect us,’ he told newsGP.
‘Climate change is shaping up to be a key issue in this election, and for GPs who work to keep the families we look after healthy, we need to be advocating on climate change.
‘Any party going into the election claiming that they wanted to harm our children would rightly not pick up many votes, but without effective action on climate change, that is effectively what they are saying.’
Dr Senior believes that as trusted community experts, GPs have a valuable role in helping to protect children from the potential harms of climate change.
‘As well as seeking to treat illness when it arises, GPs seek to protect health and wellbeing of our patients,’ he said.
‘We do child health surveillance, immunisation, advice on healthy eating, physical activity.’
The effects of climate change will increasingly endanger children’s health, through reducing access to clean air, food, water, and social and economic stability, according to the DEA report. Recent studies cite that an estimated 88% of children globally bear disease due to climate change – with the greater burden in low socioeconomic and developing areas.
‘There are potentially profound harms for children as a result of climate change,’ Dr Senior said.
‘These can arise as a direct result of natural disasters as a result of climate change – children are more vulnerable to the effects of bushfires, floods or cyclones, and are more likely to suffer mental health problems in the aftermath. The prolonged disasters of heatwaves and drought can increase diarrhoeal and respiratory diseases.
‘Communities who are already more vulnerable are at increased risk of ill-health from climate change. In Australia, this includes children in rural and remote areas, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.’
Dr Senior also acknowledges the subtler effects that environmental changes will have on children’s future, such as increased allergies from changes in pollen, mosquito-borne diseases, food-supply changes influencing nutrition, and impacts on sport participation in extreme weather, resulting in reduced physical activity.
‘Fundamentally, children’s health depends on having clean air, clean water, good food, physical activity, and a stable environment,’ he said.
‘The damage done today is the environment our children have no choice but to grow up in.
‘The evidence for the health impact of climate change on our children is clear. And this is something that can’t only be managed with individual behaviour change – it’s very difficult to choose the air that you breathe or the weather system you will live in.
‘We need to advocate on this locally, as individuals and groups, and through our professional bodies at a state and national level.’

children’s health climate change Doctors for the Environment Australia federal election

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Rosalie Schultz   9/05/2019 9:27:47 AM

Well said, Dr Senior!

Climate change is the most important health issue of our time, particularly with its relationship to other determinants of health like junk food consumption, cars and pollution.

Jennifer Mackendrick   9/05/2019 1:37:44 PM

Stop global warming.

Matt Long   9/05/2019 9:45:19 PM

Wow. Is there anything global warming, sorry climate change isn't responsible for? I think it caused Trump, Brexit, and my last patient's ingrown toenail.

Ingrid Smethurst   10/05/2019 8:18:32 AM

Thank you Dr Senior and newsGP for finally highlighting this! The links to climate change and health are clear. For one thing, work is going to get a whole lot more overwhelming with more frequent 'natural' disasters. We have a responsibility as health professionals to do what we can to educate governments and ensure that the brave action that is needed, is taken.

Dr Darshini Jeyaratnam   10/05/2019 12:22:49 PM

I have to wholeheartedly agree. The current effects that climate change are having on our health will only increase if we don't do everything we possibly can to reverse the trajectory of fossil fuel emissions. The co benefits, especially in reducing air pollution, are another compelling reason to act.
Thank you, Dr Senior.