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Professor advises providers to consider regional health care risks from climate change

November 15, 2016

By BETSY TAYLOR

Global warming is an issue of concern for those who work in Catholic health care, not just because people of faith are called to be stewards of creation, but also because it results in a changing environment that alters the health risks and diseases providers in a region will encounter and treat.

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Anderko

CHA offered a webinar that addressed that topic called "Climate Change and Health — Webinar for the Feast of St. Francis" on Sept. 30. Laura Anderko, a nurse and educator who holds the Robert and Kathleen Scanlon Endowed Chair in Values Based Health Care at Georgetown University's School of Nursing & Health Studies, was the presenter. She directs the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children's Health and the Environment and received White House recognition as a "Champion of Change: Public Health and Climate" in 2013 for her efforts to raise awareness about climate-based health effects.

She said global warming impacts "each and every community," and she encouraged health care providers to understand their own regions, and how health risks change as the environment does. "It's important for you to understand, particularly as a health provider or health administrator, what is the risk for your community, your population," she said.

She said the significant impacts of climate change are well researched and documented. She pointed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's work as far back as 2007 that found a substantial body of scientific knowledge showed "warming of the climate is unequivocal." The United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as an international body for assessing climate change.

Anderko explained the rising temperatures, extreme weather, rising sea levels and increasing carbon dioxide levels that are part of climate change can threaten peoples' health and well-being. Extreme heat may cause more heat-related illnesses and death, including from cardiovascular failure. Where global warming triggers natural disasters and loss of life and property, mental health concerns may spike. Air pollution leads to an increase in asthma attacks and cardiovascular disease, Anderko said.

Global warming is expanding the geographic range of pests, including certain types of mosquitoes or ticks, so vector-borne diseases including malaria, Zika, and Lyme disease may be found in areas where health care providers haven't diagnosed locally acquired cases in the past. Climate change also is causing a rise in allergens in some regions, which leads to more respiratory problems and asthma, she said.

Changing global temperatures are impacting water, water quality and food supply in some regions of the globe, which can lead to malnourishment and disease, according to Anderko.

Ministry members working to prepare for the effects of climate change should pay special attention to "populations of concern" — the poor, the elderly and children — who may face more ramifications from a changing environment. Plans to help those in need should consider cooling stations, shelter from weather events and education about health conditions and appropriate response to assist those in need of care.

Ministry members can discern how their own organizations' carbon footprint contributes to climate change and they can shift to renewable or clean energy sources. They can advocate for government policy changes to address climate change. They can work to assess the environmental shifts and the health risks and collaborate on disaster preparedness plans for their communities.

CHA has compiled a list of climate change resources, including a link to recent studies and to the Catholic Climate Covenant, at chausa.org/environment/climate-change.

The Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Climate Covenant is working to guide the climate change response of the church in the United States through education, public awareness and resources. The organization encourages individuals and institutions to take the St. Francis Pledge, a commitment to respond to the moral call for action on climate change. Those who take the pledge are asked to pray, act and advocate to solve climate change in ways of their own choosing.

 

Copyright © 2016 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
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