A panel of international experts brought together by Griffith University has warned there will be dire health consequences if action is not taken against climate change.

From Brisbane and Ballarat to Malaysia, Iran and everywhere in between, a global audience switched on to hear from academics speaking at the Centre for Environment and Population Health’s (CEPH) Future-Proofing Health Care through Climate Action web event.

Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) Professor Mario Pinto.

Griffith Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) Professor Mario Pinto said climate action was essential to a sustainable future for the health industry.

“Climate change has become a serious concern around the world in the age of uncertainty and pandemic,” Professor Pinto said.

“As the climate changes, health security issues including bush fires and droughts, floods and cyclones, emerging infectious diseases and pandemics, and food and water security all increase the scale and spread of human suffering.

“Without improving capacity and becoming better prepared, health systems worldwide will struggle to cope.

“This requires urgent climate action to mitigate, better prepare and manage the risks.

“The immense challenges ahead make working together in the health care sector across states and regions more important than ever.”

The virtual event had 250 registrants and was co-hosted by Griffith University, International Network of Health-Promoting Hospitals and Health Services, and international agency, Healthcare without Harm.

The conference focused on links between climate change and COVID-19, and noted that the health sector in many parts of the world have been stretched beyond their limits to cope with the pandemic.

“We want to put a spotlight on the climate action that hospitals in the region can implement to future-proof themselves against coming climate-related disasters,” CEPH Director Professor Cordia Chu said.

“Our partners and Griffith hope to kick-start healthcare climate action in Southeast Asia and the Pacific region.”

Centre for Environment and Population Health Director Professor Cordia Chu.

Healthcare Without Harm Southeast Asia Executive Director Ramon San Pascual said climate impacts were already taking hold.

“We in healthcare need to rethink our role in combating climate change, and we need to do better,” he said.

Dr Ming-Nan Lin, from the International Network of Health Promoting Hospital and Health Services, agreed.

“Climate threats jeopardise the essential ingredients for good health. When we incorporate climate solutions into our clinical practice we simultaneously address the concerns of our patients, staff and community,” Dr Lin said.

Possible solutions to future-proofing healthcare

Panelist Filipino physician and PH Lab Chief Planetary Doctor Renzo Guinto said climate change leads to a multitude of adverse health conditions, from heat related illnesses and respiratory illness from worsened air quality, to mosquito borne diseases during flooding and malnutrition, and that 250,000 additional deaths annually from 2030 onward would be attributed worldwide to climate change.

“The healthcare capacity can be increased, but the earth’s capacity is non-negotiable — that you cannot change,” Dr Guinto said.

“We are the ones that need to adjust and make the changes so our ecological footprint gets flattened.”

“Because if not — and now there is a lot of talk about, ‘When is the second wave coming? When’s the third wave of COVID-19?’ — there is a much bigger and much scarier wave that is about to happen that we can anticipate if climate action is delayed.”

Dr Renzo Guinto

Dr Guinto suggested a shift towards a circular — or “doughnut” — economy could solve part of the problem.

“We love using the term ‘new normal’ — there is really nothing normal in the pre-pandemic state that we came from, and really what we need to start talking about is how can we renovate the political economy of planetary health that creates climate change, but also makes us more susceptible to COVID-19 and other infections?” he said.

“How can we shift from this limitless growth model of the economy to an economy that meets peoples needs but does not violate the planetary boundaries? That’s when we should look at the doughnut economy model.”

Dr Nguyen Huong.

Professor Chu said one example might lie in strongly integrating climate change into key national plans.

For example, Griffith’s long-standing partner Dr Nguyen Huong, from Ministry of Health Vietnam, presented her country’s national climate change adaptation plan.

“Their climate action plan is really comprehensive and impressive, and sets out a plan for a more sustainable future,” Professor Chu said.

“Vietnam is leading the way in the Southeast Asian and Pacific regions.”

Other experts in the event included Malaysia’s Tzu Chi Dialysis Centre sustainability coordinator Teoh Bee Ling and Asian Development Bank Health Infrastructure Consultant Frank Rammelo.