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Climate and health—lessons from COVID-19 prompt new report

January 20, 2022

A new Simon Fraser University-led report suggests that developing new strategies around telemedicine, green infrastructure and food security—all of which had an impact during the current pandemic—could help to better prepare the province for the potential advances of climate change.

“Like COVID-19, climate change is a risk multiplier, posing direct, indirect, and intersecting threats to human health and exacerbating existing health and social inequities,” says SFU health sciences professor Tim Takaro, who co-authored Climate, Health and COVID-19 in British Columbia with a team of SFU public health policy researchers.

The report, produced with support from the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) and SFU’s Planetary Health Research Group, identifies lessons from the current COVID-19 pandemic that researchers say could help the province better prepare for the likely health impacts on peoples’ physical and mental well-being due to climate change.

Researchers identified how climate’s impact on communities across the province, from an increase in extreme weather events to more severe wildfires, will cut across BC’s regional health authority boundaries, and will require coordination and collaborative planning.

They analyzed the major disruptions related to the pandemic— lockdowns, social restrictions, economic disruptions, supply chain issues, and loss of life—then zeroed in on key areas of health and healthcare that have garnered broad public attention during the pandemic and are most likely to also be affected by climate change. As a result, they suggest the following:

  • The researchers say developing a provincial strategy for telemedicine would serve to create consistency and standards for all of BC’s health authorities, while expanding health care equitably and more sustainably. 
  • Providing more green infrastructure, integral to people’s health and wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic, also has the potential to reduce exposure to extreme heat, improve air quality, and support mental health in a changing climate.  Ensuring access to green spaces and their health benefits could lessen economic and structural health inequities, particularly in urban and low-income settings.
  • Meanwhile planning for sustainable food systems under climate change will require attention to the production, processing, packaging, distribution, marketing, consumption, and disposal of food. Among other things, this will mean preparing for its impacts on growing seasons and the health of agricultural workers. “Food security relies on complex networks of people, communities, and resources that exist within social, cultural, and ecological contexts,” lead author Sally Maguet notes. “Climate change has the potential to disrupt any and all of these connections, creating food insecurity and inequities in access to safe, affordable, and abundant food sources.”

The report also suggests preparations for climate change’s impact on health could include:

  • Mapping climate projections, health impacts and vulnerability across the province to inform coordinated health and equity planning for climate change across health authority boundaries.
  • Developing processes that embed health equity in the design and implementation of low carbon, climate mitigation solutions in all sectors.

According to the researchers: “The disruption COVID-19 has caused at every level of society has given us pause to re-assess our priorities, and highlighted the fragility of our current social, political, economic, and healthcare systems. It has also provided an opportunity to reimagine our future.”

Read the full report written by Sally Maguet (Master of Public Health), Sally McBride (MPH), Michael Friesen (MPH) and SFU Professor Tim Takaro, Faculty of Health Sciences Planetary Health Research Group.

REPORT: https://pics.uvic.ca/sites/default/files/PICS_00621_Climate_Health_Covid_Report.pdf

PICS HIGHLIGHTS: https://pics.uvic.ca/research/climate-health-and-covid-19-british-columbia

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