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Where is the Climate Change Public Health Awareness Campaign?

AIDS, Ebola, Dengue, and Malaria, along with Climate Change, are major health threats. Unlike these diseases, Climate Change lacks public health awareness campaigns.

What do HIV/Aids, Ebola, Dengue, and Malaria have in common with Climate change? All those infectious diseases have been classified as threats to human health. Climate change, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is the “single biggest health threat facing humanity.”  But unlike the above-mentioned infectious diseases, no global, regional, or local public health awareness campaigns on the impact of climate change on health have materialized.

Remember the COVID-19 pandemic? When the world was saturated with messages of how to properly wear a face mask, and when and where to – and to sanitize at every turn – all in hopes of preventing infection and the spread of the illness.

The direct and constant messaging worked, and a reduction in cases was recorded.

Knowledge is power, and normally when there is a threat to public health the medical community band together to tell populations the dos and don’ts to help control illnesses.

However, despite being a “fundamental threat” to public health, the effects of the impacts of climate change on human health have only recently been given any focus in the climate justice conversation.

Founder of the global NGO Earth Medic and Earth Nurse, Dr. James Hospedales believes that a lack of climate knowledge within the curricula of medical schools is linked to the low focus on climate health awareness within the profession.

“I think one of the number one reasons why we don’t have a public health campaign yet materialized is that the health professions are not climate literate,” Dr. Hospedales said.

“Ninety-nine percent has heard this phase, but when you come down to understanding the causes, what the impacts are, what the impacts are on health, what it is that they can do, and what they are actually doing, you see that there is a huge knowledge action gap,” he pointed out.

Recently, in association with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) UWI has embarked on a climate health fellowship offered to Caribbean nationals. The aim of the project is to improve climate and health systems, and build the capacity of professionals in healthcare.

The Planetary Health Report Card is a student led initiative geared towards increasing planetary health awareness and accountability among medical schools. This year’s report card, the fourth iteration, is seen as a tool for institutional advocacy to be used by health students to ensure universities include pivotal climate health education into curriculums.  

Climate change is bad for human health

Prior to forming the NGO, Dr. Hospedales served as Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency. It is in that capacity that he saw the intrinsic link between climate change and human health. He explained that key messages from credible voices are pivotal for an effective public health campaign – health professionals are among the most trusted voices within the public.

AIDS, Ebola, Dengue, and Malaria, along with Climate Change, are major health threats. Unlike these diseases, Climate Change lacks public health awareness campaigns.
Dr. James Hospedales, Founder – Earth Medic and Earth Nurse

“Those messages need to emphasize that this is bad for your health, it’s not only bad for polar bears and for the rainforest, but also for your health,” Dr. Hospedales pointed out.

He added that flooding and changed rain patterns will impact the water supply, increase vector-borne disease, impact infrastructure, and even result in depression and other mental illnesses due to shocks.

Better late than never

In late October 2023, over 200 medical journals declared that climate change and biodiversity loss are global health emergencies that must be tackled together to preserve health. This comes ahead of the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) which will be held in Dubai, UAE in December. For the first time, a Health Day and climate-health ministerial will be held at this year’s COP. An online course has even been created ahead of December 2023 that features key information on climate change and its impact on health.

AIDS, Ebola, Dengue, and Malaria, along with Climate Change, are major health threats. Unlike these diseases, Climate Change lacks public health awareness campaigns.
Photo by Green Geeks

The joint statement by the medical journals is calling for the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). It states that the planetary crisis fulfills all of the pre-conditions set out by WHO to declare a PHEIC.

According to the WHO, “Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately a quarter of a million additional deaths per year.” 

This story was published by Climate Spotlight with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture between Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations.


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Marco Lopez

Marco is a journalist, writer, and digital media consultant specialising in content creation. His career has encompassed a diverse range of multimedia roles, from his initial position as a Master Control Operator for Krem Television, culminating as the Editor-in-Chief at the Amandala Newspaper, reflecting his steady advancement through the ranks. He continues to contribute to the publication with a focus on writing climate change stories, sparked by the impassioned calls for action he witnessed at COP25. Outside of work, Marco is an avid bushman and self-proclaimed 5-star jungle chef.

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