11 August 2020

A full COVID recovery needs a climate change plan: doc groups

Global Health Respiratory

Medical groups representing more than 75% of Australia’s doctors have signed an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, saying any economic recovery must put health front and centre – and that entails addressing climate change.

The letter, published today, has the AMA, RACGP and ACRRM among its signatories.

Doctors for the Environment Australia, who coordinated the letter, said the signatories widely represent the nation’s GPs, emergency room doctors, physicians, obstetricians, and psychiatrists who are on the COVID front-line.

The letter describes the world as being in the middle of two health emergencies: the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

“As we continue efforts to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, we must ensure that we also have a whole-of-government approach towards addressing climate change, which also has potentially catastrophic health impacts,” the authors say.

The letter cites the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires, which claimed 33 lives, as one of the catastrophic events associated with climate change.

“Associated smoke engulfed our cities for weeks causing respiratory, cardiovascular and ocular complications,” the authors write.

“The smoke resulted in over 1300 presentations to emergency departments with asthma, more than 3000 hospitalisations for heart and lung problems and 417 excess deaths.”

They suggest that a health-centred economic approach to pandemic recovery would support a transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy and invest in projects and technologies that preserve the natural environment.

ACRRM president Dr Ewen McPhee said his college was dedicated to supporting the government working with all stakeholders to address the causes and minimise the impact of disasters in the future.

“People living in rural and remote areas, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, are particularly vulnerable to the mental and physical health impacts of disasters, whether they be pandemics, bushfires, droughts or floods,” he said.

Dr Lara Roeske, spokeswoman for the RACGP, said Australia had a unique opportunity to make a real difference for patient health into the future.

“Climate change is a public health emergency – it is already having a real-life impact on patients across Australia, the devastating bushfires and hazardous smoke last summer being just one example,” she said.

“As our political leaders now look to develop economic recovery plans after the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make people’s health a priority.

“We need a whole-of-government approach to address climate change and its catastrophic health impacts.”

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