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New report says death, illnesses, injuries will increase because of climate change

A landmark report from the Global Health Alliance Australia looks at the health impacts of climate change

Australia and its neighbouring countries are experiencing more deaths, illnesses and injuries from erratic and extreme weather brought about by climate change. The Global Health Alliance, a peak body of 47 global health organisations, has released a landmark report detailing how to tackle global health issues relating to climate change.

The report, Health and climate change: from Townsville to Tuvalu, outlines nine key points to help address the problem, calling on all levels of government in Australia. The report also suggests that the Australian Infrastructure Financing Fund for the Pacific, a $2 billion fund, be used to address the concerns raised by the report.

The report was published in collaboration with the Monash Sustainable Development Institute and the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University, includes contributions from Australia’s leading global health organisations.

Nine key points

Among the key points from the nine-point plan, the Global Health Alliance recommends tasking the Productivity Commission to assess the cost-effectiveness of action on climate change and the associated benefits on the health of Australians.

* Publicly recognise the health impacts of climate change

* The priorities articulated by Health Ministers in the Pacific should drive Australia’s investments in the region

* Equip the current and future workforce in Australia and across the Asia Pacific region for emerging threats to health from climate change

* Devise an implementation agenda for addressing the health impacts of climate change

* Support direct action in Australia through State and Local Government Area-based public health strategies

* Establish a multi-institutional Health and Climate Change Research Facility, based in rural Australia

* Increase financial investment to facilitate innovation and opportunities to develop effective health adaptations and low/zero-emissions initiatives – focusing on rural Australia and the Pacific

* Support proven solutions that address the impact of climate change on health

* Support policy initiatives that involve the community and citizens.

Partnerships are key to solving the issue

Professor John Thwaites, former Health Minister of Victoria and Chair of Monash Sustainable Development Institute & ClimateWorks Australia, has said that preventing and solving the health issues caused by climate change will require partnerships from all areas. "An effective government response will require interventions from a number of sectors including agriculture, transport, housing, water and sanitation."

He also stressed the need for an urgent response, "When we understand that climate change is a health issue, and that health is already being affected here in Australia and across the region, it is clear that there is an urgent need for action."

Reviewing events through the lens of climate change and health

Misha Coleman, the Executive Director of Global Health Alliance Australia, has shed further light on previously devastating weather events in Australia, made worse by climate change.

"Most Australians know about the devastating deaths of 173 people because of the Black Saturday bushfires of February, 2009. What is less well known is that during the heatwave, which included three days over 43 degrees Celsius, there were 374 more deaths than expected in a normal week, probably from heat stroke."

Extreme weather events are having an even greater impact on infants and young children, limiting their cognitive development. In a study examining mothers that experienced extreme weather events during pregnancy, including the Canadian Ice Storm and the 2011 Brisbane floods, the children born have, on average, smaller vocabularies and less imaginative play when they are two years old.

New diseases spreading due to changing climates

The report also suggests that we will see new diseases become established in Australia. A virus of major concern is Nipah, a bat-borne virus which causes disease in pigs and can be fatal to humans. Antibodies for this virus has already been found in fruit bats from South East Asia and Timor Leste. Modelling shows that areas in northern Australia will be increasingly at-risk of this deadly virus becoming established.