Climate change will affect us all; however, certain sectors of the population will be impacted more severely by its effects than others. According to Dr. Edith Peterson Mitchell, current editor-in-chief of the Journal of the National Medical Association and professor of medicine at Thomas Jefferson University, “many of the disease processes related to climate change already have proven disparities…in racial and ethnic minority communities, geriatric populations, the poor, as well as rural and communities with limited access to healthcare” (Mitchell, 2022). These communities are already well recognized to have poorer health outcomes compared to other populations.
However, the added burden of climate change “deepens pre-existing inequalities by taking the greatest toll on those already at heightened risk” (Antosh, 2022). In her September grand rounds presentation, Dr. Natalie Antosh, a 3rd year resident at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, paints an important and startling picture of these added health burdens. The effects of air pollution, extreme heat, extreme weather events, food insecurity, and disease, all brought about by climate change, are discussed in detail in her presentation. For example, she notes that an additional 5 million deaths around the world each year are linked to abnormally hot temperatures. Extreme weather events, such as flooding, lead to increases in waterborne diseases when sanitation systems are disrupted. These and other weather events, such as forest fires, also have significant impacts on the mental health in the communities they impact. Additionally, rates of diseases such as Malaria and Lyme disease are also increasing, with the number of Lyme disease cases doubling over the past 30 years as climate changes allows the ticks that carry this disease to expand their territory.
One notable source of information for Dr. Antosh’s presentation was a 2021 report by the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change. This yearly report, written by a multidisciplinary collaboration, including scientists, public health experts, and health professionals, analyzes 44 specific indicators related to the health impacts of climate change. The report’s introduction notes, “Even with overwhelming evidence on the health impacts of climate change, countries are not delivering an adaptation response proportionate to the rising risks their populations face… [A]ccelerated adaptation is essential to reduce the vulnerabilities of populations to climate change…[but] this will only be possible if the world acts together to ensure that no person is left behind” (Romenello).
Antosh, N. (2022). “An Introduction to Climate Change & Health.” Department of Family & Community Medicine Presentations and Grand Rounds. Paper 544. https://jdc.jefferson.edu/fmlectures/544
Mitchell, E. P. (2022). Disparities in impact of global warming and climate change in the United States. Journal of the National Medical Association, 114(5), 465-466. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnma.2022.09.001
Romanello, M. et al. (2021). The 2021 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: code red for a healthy future. The Lancet. 398(10311), 1619-1662). https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)01787-6