The Opening Session of ACR’s Global Summit shed light on how climate change, conflict, and migration impact human health in populations around the world. A trio of panelists brought a mix of perspectives from academic, intergovernmental, and nongovernmental institutions to the Thursday morning session to highlight the wide-ranging response required to address these issues.
The session is available for on-demand viewing for registered ACR Convergence participants through October 31, 2023, on the virtual meeting website.
“Climate change is the biggest health threat for developing countries and for the globe,” said Michael Taylor, PhD, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of the West Indies, and Co-director of the Climate Studies Group Mona, Jamacia.
Evidence has shown that global warming has increased, and the changing climate results in the emergence of an unfamiliar, multi-hazard climate era. This hurts developing countries, which rely on familiar climate patterns for development and quality of life, including healthcare resources, Dr. Taylor noted.
“What is to come far outstrips the change we have already seen,” he said. “All sustainable development goals are threatened by continued unprecedented climate changes, including the goal of good health for all.”
To confront this global crisis, he said attitudes toward climate need to change and be paired with a strong mitigation agenda that includes significant involvement from those in healthcare.
“We need coordinated response marked by urgency,” Dr. Taylor said. “If we do that, development agendas become untouchable by climate, including the development agendas for the health sector, which is our ultimate goal.”
Kolitha Wickramage, MD, MPH, PhD, MA, studies migration and its implications on economic development—and, by extension, healthcare—with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) at the United Nations (UN).
As of 2021, there were 281 million international migrants, said Dr. Wickramage, Global Migration Health Research and Epidemiology Coordinator, UN Migration Agency. In 2015 alone, international migrants sent $400 billion home to their families in low- and middle-income countries.
The IOM developed a three-pronged institutional strategy to guide its work over the next decade that includes support for migrants who are on the move through migration management, protection and assistance for those who are on the move, and adaptation for those who wish to stay, Dr. Wickramage explained. This strategy makes migration an informed choice by building resilience and addressing the adverse climatic and environmental drivers that compel people to move. In all of these, evidence is key, he said.
“This includes things like identifying local disaster risk reduction mapping with local authorities, identifying gaps in preparedness and response strategies, and finding better solutions to mitigate future crises,” Dr. Wickramage said.
The IOM’s collaborative studies with resettling countries include investigation into health incidents such as splenomegaly in refugees from Uganda, nutrition assessments of Syrian refugee children, and a high rate of malaria in irregular migration paths during civil war in Sri Lanka. Researchers examine how migrant-sensitive healthcare systems are and to what extent human mobility has been included in disease control and prevention programs.
Matthew Coldiron, MD, MPH, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)/Doctors Without Borders, discussed the effects of climate change on health in emergencies. Drought and violence affect agricultural capacity, for example, which affects nutrition, which affects disease, he said.
“Political decisions drive conflict, which destroys health systems and critical infrastructure,” Dr. Coldiron continued. “Political decisions also drive climate change, and the poorest people suffer the greatest consequences and have the fewest opportunities to recover and mitigate future problems.”
The next challenge will be how to provide mental healthcare to people in communities affected by climate change.
“We have repeatedly documented high levels of anxiety, depression, and grief due to climate-related violence and displacement,” Dr. Coldiron said. “We’re working to develop the evidence base to address these unique mental health consequences.”