Australian governments need to boost spending on infectious disease warning systems, doctors warn in a major report.
Doctors and researchers have issued a new call to action to Australian policy makers on the health impacts of climate change, warning of the greater incidence of disease, natural disasters and mental health issues.
The major assessment of progress on climate change and health by The Medical Journal of Australia and The Lancet found that “Australia is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change on health, and that policy inaction in this regard threatens Australian lives.”
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) joined with the leading journals to issue a briefing for policymakers in response to the report’s findings.
“Climate change affects human health in a number of ways, from the spread of tropical disease, increasing regularity of natural disasters to decreasing food security, all of which have consequences for human health,” said AMSA president Alex Farrell.
The report recommends greater government investment in monitoring and early warning systems for climate-sensitive infectious diseases and new research to map populations vulnerable to the mental health impacts of climate change.
“The importance of a well-planned, coordinated and comprehensive Australian government response to climate-related health challenges cannot be overstated,” the report says.
As a warm, dry country, Australia is particularly vulnerable to an array of health risks linked with climate change, it says.
The report states:
“Rising temperatures, extreme weather events, changing infectious disease patterns, increasing food insecurity, and migration and population displacement all threaten Australians’ health and wellbeing and increase the burden on our health system.”
The new report comes amidst increasing agitation from doctors and healthcare professionals for government action on the issue.
Public health professionals campaigned to make the health impacts of climate change an issue in the high-profile Wentworth by-election.
The Queensland Government in September launched an adaption plan to guide services on ways to manage the threats that climate changes poses to human health.
The latest national report warns that malaria and dengue fever are sensitive to “climate-mediated changes in the range and reproductive capabilities of disease-carrying mosquitoes.”
“Likewise, extreme weather events can optimise conditions for infectious disease transmission by undermining water and sanitation infrastructure, thereby increasing the risk of food and waterborne disease outbreaks,” it finds.
The report argues that reducing emissions from the transport sector, which contributed 18 per cent of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2015, is an “essential climate change mitigation measure.”
It points to Adelaide where research has shown that shifting 40 per cent of vehicle kilometres travelled by passenger vehicles to so-called active transport would prevent 543 premature deaths a year through improved air quality and physical fitness.
“To maximise health benefits and associated economic savings from the transport sector, governments should develop and allocate more funding to programs and infrastructure that promote a shift from driving to more sustainable, and ideally active, modes of transport,” the report says.
It argues that a variety of measures including sustainable urban planning will be needed to get people out of their cars and using more active transport like walking or cycling.
Access the briefing for policymakers here.
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