Australian healthcare sector unprepared for climate change threat: experts

Source: Xinhua| 2019-04-15 09:31:44|Editor: Li Xia
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SYDNEY, April 15 (Xinhua) -- Australia’s healthcare system is desperately under-prepared for challenges posed by climate change, a group of experts in the field of medicine and natural disaster management have warned.

Published on Monday, in the Medical Journal of Australia, University of Sydney Planetary Health Prof. Anthony Capon, along with Dr. Peter Aitken from Queensland Health’s Disaster Management Unit and Prof. Gerard Fitzgerald from the Queensland University of Technology’s School of Public Health said health problems related to climate change are already drastically increasing.

“With a summer of back to back bushfires, droughts, floods and heatwaves, Australia is no stranger to the ever more frequent, ferocious effects of climate change,” the experts said.

“Risk to Australians from climate change will vary but rising temperatures directly affect people’s health and wellbeing with heat-related illnesses such as heat stress and heat stroke and indirectly on people with chronic cardiovascular, respiratory and renal diseases,”

According to the authors, the rise in temperature is also likely to bring new allergens, pathogens and vectors such as mosquitoes.

“Current disease notification systems are slow, and monitoring of the response capacity of the health system relies on individuals recognizing and reporting emerging problems,” the experts said.

“This requires enhanced real-time surveillance of ambulance, emergency department, and hospital capacities and of patterns of demand to enable more timely recognition of new problems.”

But while the dangers of climate change and natural disasters pose a threat to physical health, the authors warn that other consequences such as mental health conditions may also be equally hard to deal with.

“Identifying immediate direct effects (injuries and deaths) is relatively straightforward but longer term impacts and indirect health consequences are less clear,” the experts said.

“For example Hurricane Maria killed 64 people in Puerto Rico in 2017 but the estimated all-cause increased mortality for the following three months was 4,645.

“Even in high-income countries like Australia, the long-term consequences, particularly for mental health, are difficult to predict and the strategies we need to minimize them will relate to the effectiveness of the health system more broadly.”

For Australia to overcome these issues, the authors are calling for a “whole-of system approach,” to make the healthcare sector more resilient and better prepared.

On May 7, Fitzgerald will outline these recommendations to the 21st World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine Congress in Brisbane.