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11 Apr 2019


On March 15, thousands of Australian school students marched through city streets around the country to demand the Government take more action on climate change. Medical students joined this cohort of young Australians to raise awareness of the impact of climate change on human health.

Australian medical students recognise climate change to be the most significant global health challenge of our generation. As global citizens we worry how this will impact us, and as future doctors we are concerned how the changing climate will affect our patients. The impacts are already happening: emergency room admissions are spiking during more frequent adverse weather events, droughts have affected crop yields and heat-waves have become hotter and longer. These effects disproportionately affect developing and remote locations where hospitals have not sufficiently adapted to manage the crisis. In fact, Australia is particularly susceptible to these impacts: an ageing population who are vulnerable to extreme heat, a firm reliance of agriculture is under threat by water scarcity, and we have a high population density in flood zones.

Our current health systems are not equipped to manage the increase in vector-borne diseases, exacerbations in mental health and consequences of precarious food security. Climate change training for medical professionals, including its subsequent impact on health is essential to ready us to adequately respond to climate-related events and address the present and future burden on the healthcare sector.

The Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) is committed to being part of the solution to our planet’s health emergency. At a grass-roots level, our Code Green team runs environmental advocacy and education initiatives across all Australian medical schools.

AMSA members attend United Nations climate talks in order to highlight how the importance of mitigating and adapting to climate change is critical to avoid a burgeoning health crisis. AMSA has also developed a sustainability policy for our organisation and the events we run to ensure we are recognising and addressing our own environmental impact as well as engaging all medical students in decisive action against climate change.

From keeping cups, to reusable water bottles, to national policy, medical students are playing their part to preserve the Earth. We are looking towards national leaders and the broader medical community to help solve this problem that affects us all. Last August, alongside many other health organisations, AMSA committed to the fossil fuel divestment. Divestment from fossil fuels is a compelling public message and for medical professionals; it is a broadening of our oath to ‘do no harm’. Public policy on climate change by medical professionals should echo those public health initiatives already seen in doctors’ separation from other harmful industries, such as tobacco. Now is the time for medical professionals to champion the health benefits of timely climate change mitigation.

In the upcoming federal election, climate change will be front and centre; doctors and medical students hold a unique voice to advocate for patients, public and global health in the face of increasing climate adversity.

AMSA Code Green Coordinator, Keerthi Muvva, attended the climate rally in Sydney where she was inspired by, and able to inspire, other young advocates like her.

“The School 4 Climate Rally was a truly incredible demonstration of youth passion and determination to put climate action on everybody’s agenda,” Keerthi said.

It is time to put pressure on our nation’s leaders. Even if they only see in three-year terms, the impact of climate change is already evident. The upcoming federal election presents an opportunity for our voices to be heard; we need to divest, and invest in climate solutions that incorporate more sustainable living practices into Australian life.

AMSA Code Green is an excellent example of practical action all health professionals can take.

Ms Muvva urged us: “Don’t let these strikes be the end of a conversation - make it the beginning.”

I would like to thank Code Green Coordinators Keerthi Muvva, Oliver Le Grice and Global Health Vice Chair, Georgia Behrens, for their contributions to advocacy around climate change and health.

Published: 11 Apr 2019