Climate crisis should be recognized as a health emergency

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The World Health Organization (WHO) should declare the climate and natural crisis a health emergency, according to scientists worldwide.
More than 200 scientific journals simultaneously issued a call to do so before the next World Health Assembly in spring 2024. These include renowned journals such as “The Lancet” and “The British Medical Journal” (“BMJ”).

It is a dangerous mistake to consider the climate and nature crises separately, the appeal says. “The climate crisis and biodiversity loss are both damaging human health, and they are linked,” “BMJ” Editor-in-Chief Kamran Abbasi shared. “Therefore, we must look at them together and declare a global health emergency. “Health experts… have a central role in getting this important message across and advocating for policymakers to recognize the global health emergency and take urgent action.”

In response to a query, a WHO spokesperson stated that the organization has long considered air pollution and climate change worldwide health crises. To declare a public health emergency (PHEIC), he said, clear criteria must be met, such as a phenomenon being new, unusual and at risk of spreading worldwide. “The climate crisis has unfortunately been taking place for decades and has long been a chronic global crisis,” the spokesperson informed. Therefore, he said, the technical conditions have not been met. He said the climate crisis calls for sustained, long-term interventions, including health, but that is not what a PHEIC declaration is for.

Climate change is contributing to the spread of infectious diseases with rising temperatures and extreme weather, among other factors, the call to journals says. Environmental pollution is damaging drinking water sources, and fish for consumption are becoming scarcer because of ocean acidification. The decline in biodiversity makes it more challenging to feed humanity healthily. More settlement and agricultural construction, as well as encroachment into previously natural areas, are bringing people closer to tens of thousands of species. This increases the risk of diseases and parasites being transmitted to humans.

Declaring a public health emergency is the highest alert the WHO can declare. It did so, for example, during the Corona pandemic. This calls on all member countries to share information and do everything they can to get the problem in question under control. Declaring a state of emergency does not have any concrete effects. The WHO cannot prescribe measures for any country. It is up to each country to decide.

The current appeal is that politicians need to wake up to the dangers that climate change and other natural disasters pose to public health. They have to acknowledge the potential impact that crisis elimination could have on public health.

  • source: k.at/picture: pixabay.com
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