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National Public Health Week Focuses on Climate Change and Health


Public health officials are beginning a major effort to try to reduce the effect that climate change is expected to have on health. They've released a blueprint for tackling climate change that outlines ways the public and public health agencies can make a difference. Michele Skalicky has more on "Climate Change: Our Health in the Balance."

Climate Change has received a lot of attention lately, and likely will continue to do so in the months and years ahead. The American Public Health Association has begun an effort to educate the public about the link between climate change and health. The APHA's executive director Dr. Georges Benjamin says there's a great deal of concern that climate change is going to significantly impact our health. Because of that, the APHA has released a blueprint for combating the health impacts of climate change.

"What we're hoping here at the American Public Health Association is to begin is to begin a conversation between both the public and the public health community to try to figure out what we can do to address this growing problem."

According to Dr. Benjamin, climate change is already impacting our health. For instance, we're seeing increasing amounts of drought and more extreme weather.

"One of our big concerns, of course, is, as the ecology of our environment changes, so does some of the infectious diseases that one can expect to occur in a particular community. Those may change as well."

Those include vector one diseases, things that are carried by mosquitoes and rodents. And, according to Dr. Benjamin, certain population groups are at risk.

"At the end of the day, the poor are most vulnerable, and they're most vulnerable because they start behind the pack of lower healthcare status overall, of lower capacity to address an extreme weather event, for example, or to recover from an extreme weather event."

He hopes people will pay attention to the most vulnerable—the very young, the elderly and those with a low socio-economic status—and find ways to help them throughout this process.

The Blueprint, he says, can help in that area and many others. It's a public health document that's poised to do 2 things.

"First of all, to raise awareness in both the public health communities and the public about the critical links between climate change and our health. On the public heatlh side, we're hoping that the public health community will focus in five broad buckets."

Those include education and outreach, research, advocacy, supporting best practices and encouraging people to adopt healthy behaviors. He says public health professionals are uniquely positioned to lead the way in addressing the health impacts of climate change.

Kevin Gipson, director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, says his organization is already involved in the effort to address climate change and its impact on health. He points to the department's focus on reducing ground level ozone.

"I think we've always been involved in that process with what we're doing with our ozone reduction, for example, and air quality and what we're going to be doing proactively to try to get people to recognize the impact they can individually have on ground level ozone and how high levels of ozone affects health and how we, as individuals, can make that difference."

Gipson says little things can make a difference, like filling up your gas tank when ozone levels are low, mowing your yard in the morning and evening rather than in the heat of the day and buying more energy-efficient appliances.

And, he says, one person can make a difference.

"Every program that you institute always starts with one person, and it's a collective group of one that makes things happen."

To learn more about the APHA's blueprint for combating the health impacts of climate change, go to nphw.org.

For KSMU News, I'm Michele Skalicky.


Links:

  • National Public Health Week Information