As the Earth’s climate continues warming, we can expect to see more extreme weather events such as heatwaves, floods, droughts, and wildfires. As we have been experiencing ourselves, an unwavering warming pattern is altering the European climate, with heat waves becoming more common and severe, floods intensifying, and summers expanding in duration and fervour.
This global phenomenon is already affecting human health and, if left unchecked, it will continue to have a significant impact on human health – and, potentially, on the provision of health services – in a variety of ways.
What are the potential impacts on our health and healthcare service provision?
- Rising death and illness rates due to heatwaves and other extreme weather events.
- Worsening of air pollution‘s detrimental impacts on our health.
- A surge in non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular and respiratory ailments, as well as foodborne, waterborne, and vector-borne diseases (disease that results from an infection transmitted to humans and other animals by blood-feeding anthropods, such as mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas).
- Emotional strain and mental well-being repercussions
- Extreme weather events, like floods and fires, contribute to a surge in demand for healthcare services.
- A surge in outbreaks of infectious diseases, especially zoonoses (disease transmitted from animals to humans) and vector-borne diseases.
- The expansion of infectious diseases into previously unaffected areas poses a significant risk of escalating pandemic outbreaks.
Malta-lead call linking climate change and health
In this light, an unofficial document drafted by 20 European Union Member States, spurred by Malta’s leadership in this field, sounds an alarm. The non-paper – a position that has not been through a formal adoption procedure – advocates for stronger EU action to mitigate the health consequences of climate change and the potential expansion of vector-borne diseases due to global warming. The 20 Member States’ call will be made on Thursday next week at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council in Brussels by Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, and Slovenia. Malta will be represented by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Health, Chris Fearne.
The document, seen by the Journal, calls on the European Commission and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), to take action, based on the prevaling needs, in order to:
- To examine the health and healthcare system vulnerabilities associated with extreme weather events, utilising Member State data.
- To formulate contingency plans for addressing infections, particularly zoonotic and climate-sensitive vector-borne diseases, enabling Member States to make more informed policy decisions and enhance health system preparedness and resilience in this area.
- To reinforce EU-wide vector surveillance and prevention mechanisms to effectively manage potential vector-borne disease threats, and solidify the EU’s early warning and response system among Member States.
- To forge a harmonised EU communication strategy and establish a uniform approach to training healthcare professionals across Member States in addressing the human health challenges posed by climate change.
- To bolster the EU’s preparedness to provide medical countermeasures that may be needed by Member States to prevent and treat medical conditions likely to occur due to climate change impacts.
The non-paper to be presented at Council level next week draws attention to the stark reality that climate change and its associated events are already placing a significant strain on healthcare systems across the European Union. This impact is expected to continue for years to come, potentially intensifying as extreme weather events become a regular occurrence. In this light, a swift and resolute response from the Union is imperative to combat this emerging threat and bolster its resilience.
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