In the past years, the temperature of the earth’s surface has risen by 0.8% and is likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 till the end of 21st century (IPCC, 2013). This has caused elevated average temperatures, differences to rainfall patterns, rising sea levels, and increased intensity of extreme weather events; and will continue in the future. Not only has it taken its toll on our environment itself but also on human health. Climate changes have both direct and indirect effects on human health. Direct effects include increased mortality rates, e.g. through long-term droughts, and cardiovascular impacts; indirect effects include malnutrition, increased risk of infectious diseases, like Malaria, increase in Asthma, just to name a few (Dobler & Jendritsky, 1998).
These negative effects on human health will also impact a person’s demand for health care. As is given by the Grossman model, an individuals’ utility is conditional on certain health levels. The utility he receives from health determines his demand for health and ultimately health care. If, for instance, malaria struck in Europe, a person’s overall utility will decrease given a decrease in levels of health. To improve his utility from health he may spend time and money in health improving activities, like health care, namely treating malaria through adequate medication. In other words, climate change will negatively impact a person’s health, increasing his demand for higher levels of health, and thus health care. Yet are current health care providers ready for this increase in demand? Probably not. To illustrate, a heat wave in California in 2006 cost 655 lives, 1620 hospitalizations, more then 16 000 excess emergency room visits which resulted in US$ 5.4 billion costs (NRDC, 2011) – an unexpected increase in demand for Californian hospitals which they may have not been prepared for, increasing their costs in resources and perhaps lives lost.
Health care providers need to be more proactive than reactive in the fight against global warming to decrease an unexpected surge in health care demand and to mitigate its cost. First, they need to be prepared. Reliable power sources and enough supplies, for e.g. an outbreak in any disease related to a climate change effect, will make them more resilient and self-sustained when disaster strikes (Cohen & Thompson, 2013). Secondly, they need to be advocates of the impact of global warming. Often implications of global warming on the environment are made, yet only few with respect to human health. If people knew the implications of climate change on their health, they would start acting differently. Also, healthcare professionals, like doctors, are trusted and credible in many communities; they are very likely to be listened to. Hospitals could create initiatives to increase awareness of these effects on human health. Finally, health care providers themselves need to be “change” agents. Currently, in Brazil, hospitals account for 10.6% of the country’s total commercial energy consumption. Also, in the US, the health sector’s conventional energy use contributes to an over US$ 600 million increase in health costs, like increases in asthma and respiratory illnesses (WHO & HCWH, 2009). By becoming more efficient in the use of water, electricity, food, and other resources, they are able to significantly reduce their carbon footprint.
By implementing the proposed measures health care providers will be able to meet the demand for health care due to the adverse effects of global warming, improving people’s health and increasing their utility. Adding to this, the providers positively impact human health by non-conventional health care measures, i.e. as advocates of pro-green movements and by reducing their carbon footprint. These measures help to mitigate the impact of global warming on the environment, diminishing the adverse effects of the environment , positively impacting human health.
Johanna Micus (#1234)
Cohen, G., Thompson, J. (2013) Health Care Needs to Lead the Fight Against Climate Change. Forbes Online Magazine. Retrieved on 27 November 2013 from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/skollworldforum/2013/08/06/health-care-needs-to-lead-the-fight-against-climate-change/
Dobler, G. und G.Jendritzky (1998): Krankheiten und Klima, in: Lozán, J.L., H. Graßl und P. Hupfer: Warnsignal Klima, Hamburg, 334-337
International Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] (2013), Climate Change 2013 The Physical Science Basis, Summary for Policymakers, Contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Natural Resources Defense Council [NRDC] (2011) Health and Climate Change: Accounting for Costs. Retrieved on 27 November 2013 from: http://www.nrdc.org/health/accountingforcosts/files/accountingcosts.pdf
World Health Organization [WHO] & Health Care Without Harm [HCWH] (2009). “Healthy hospitals, healthy planet, healthy people: Addressing climate change in healthcare settings”, Draft Discussion Paper