A Call for Clinicians to Act on Planetary Health

A Call for Clinicians to Act on Planetary Health

One of biggest threats to our health is the global ‘epidemic’ of the current climate disruption trends. An epidemic is described in the Cambridge dictionary as “a particular problem that affects many people at the same time”.

Humanity is causing accelerating global environmental change on the planet. The climate graphs show an unacceptable upward trend and portray high risk for the health of the Irish and global population. We are not only depleting natural resources, but also generating massive amounts of waste and toxic pollutants, causing large-scale biodiversity loss, and changing our landscapes, the composition of our atmosphere, and the health of our oceans.

This is the subject matter of ‘planetary health’,  which seeks to characterize the linkages between human caused disruption of Earth’s natural systems and the resulting impacts on human health. The term ‘planetary health’ was coined by the Rockefellar Foundation – Lancet Commission in 2015. On Friday, March 1st 2019 a Global “Declaration Calling for Family Doctors of the World to Act on Planetary Health” was released through the World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA) and Clinicians for Planetary Health initiative.

This declaration is the lead up to a global call- to – action “A Call for Clinicians to Act on Planetary Health” will be published in the Lancet, one of the oldest and most prestigious medical Journals, on April 19 2019 , ahead of Earth Day on April 22. This global call-to-action, led by the Planetary Health Alliance and co-signed by 30 medical associations and healthcare organisations around the world, reflects a broad and unprecedented commitment of the healthcare community to planetary health. It aims to increase awareness of the severe public health impacts of global environmental change and to mobilise clinical communities to get engaged through joining the Clinicians for Planetary Health initiative or the national Irish Doctors for the Environment community.

As we have seen in the recent weeks, younger generations are increasingly concerned at the future we are facing, which aligns to the bleak scientific predictions from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

As a medical community of clinicians, we owe it to reduce these risks  from environmental threats, and inform the public and medical community on the various issues and potential solutions around health and the environment, some of which are available on the website of Irish Doctors for the Environment and further resources on the Clinicians for Planetary Health website. It is time we begin to realise as a community the negative impacts that climate change will have on our already fragile healthcare system, and begin to advocate and implement changes outlined in the Declaration.

Despite the hard-won public health gains of the past decades, we are increasingly faced with degraded air quality, threatened food production, new infectious disease exposures, decreasing access to fresh water, new natural hazards, and negative consequences for our nutrition, mental health, and susceptibility to injury and disease as outlined in the Lancet Countdown. Planetary health is about more than climate change. As illustrated in the upcoming IPBES report , we are contending with various environmental changes all stemming from human impacts – e.g. population growth, demographic shifts, expanding patterns of production and consumption – that are profoundly affecting global civilization. These environmental disruptions include climate change, as well as biodiversity loss, deforestation and land degradation, resource scarcity, changing biogeochemical flows, and pollution.

This global call-to-action reflects a broad and unprecedented commitment of the healthcare community to planetary health, with co-signers as follows. This effort is also supported by the Clinicians for Planetary Health Working Group, which includes clinicians, researchers, educators, public health practitioners, community leaders, and students.

Dr Aoife Kirk
MB Bch BAO

Current LSHTM Student – Public Health
Secretary for Clinicians for Planetary Health
Member of WONCA Working Group on Environment
Member of Irish Doctors for Environment (www.ide.ie)

To join the Irish community interested in becoming engaged in environment and health issues in Ireland, please sign up for our newsletters at www.ide.ie or join us by emailing irishdocsenv@gmail.com

To learn more about how the global medical community is becoming engaged in environmental advocacy, please contact the Planetary Health Alliance at pha@harvard.edu