For planet Earth, 2016 was hotter than ever, in the worst way. For the third year in a row, the global average surface temperature has reached a new high (1.78 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th century mean). Even if you put aside the associated politics, it can be easy to view climate change as a strictly scientific phenomenon, overlooking the very real impact it could have on healthcare. According to the World Health Organization, “climate change affects social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food, and secure shelter.”
– Healthcare costs directly associated with the effects of climate change will cost an estimated $2-4 billion dollars each year.
Between 2030 and 2050:
– 250,000 more people will die each year due to malnutrition, diarrhea, malaria, and heat stress.
– Preparation and response to the effects of climate change will be weakest in developing countries and other areas with poor healthcare infrastructure.
– Extreme heat will increase the levels of ozone and other pollutants, which will exacerbate respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Pollen and other aeroallergen levels will rise as well, both of which trigger asthma.
As bleak as all of this sounds, as a future MD you can help confront the effects of this reality by joining the American Medical Student Association (AMSA). In addition to providing networking opportunities, AMSA is involved in public and global health advocacy, and AUA has its own very active chapter. You can also educate yourself about the social determinants of health by considering the new Global MD program AUA now offers in collaboration with Florida International University (FIU) and plan your medical career with global and public health in mind. Try to learn as much as you can about how doctors are making their practices more environmentally-friendly.