Beneath the dramatic pictures of fire and melting glaciers is a more subdued but no less dangerous threat: the sneaky effects of climate change on global health. It’s a silent thread that tangles populations and geographical areas, revealing weaknesses and tearing apart progress like a tangled tapestry. When we talk about our nation, India is most susceptible to the effects of predicted climate change and one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases worldwide. The nation is already dealing with a changing climate and its effects, such as heat waves, pandemics, droughts, severe storms, flooding, and other events that have a detrimental influence on people’s health and way of life. With a population of 1.4 (1,441,719,852) billion people (https://www. worldometers.info/world-population/india-population/) and a reliance on agriculture, India is likely to be badly affected by ongoing climate change.
While its effects might seem distant, they are very real and present, demanding immediate attention. This is where organizations like the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers (NABH) assume a critical role in building resilience and mitigating the impact of climate change on health.
The Scope of the Threat:
Heat stress and related illnesses: Extreme heat waves put vulnerable populations, particularly the elderly and chronically ill, at risk of heat stroke, respiratory problems, and cardiovascular complications.
Vector-borne diseases: Changing weather patterns and warmer temperatures create ideal breeding grounds for mosquitos and other disease vectors, leading to increased transmission of illnesses like malaria, dengue, and West Nile virus.
Waterborne diseases: Floods and droughts contaminate water sources, increasing the risk of diarrhoeal diseases, cholera, and other waterborne infections.
Malnutrition and hunger: Climate change disrupts agricultural systems, leading to crop failures and food insecurity, exacerbating malnutrition and hunger, particularly in vulnerable communities.
Mental health impacts: Climate-related disasters like floods, storms, and heat waves can trigger anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, adding to the burden of mental health issues globally.
NABH: Building Resilience against a Warming World
Recognizing the gravity of the situation, NABH has proactively incorporated climate change aspects into its upcoming 6th edition of accreditation standards for hospitals. This forward-thinking approach focuses on several key areas:
Environmental sustainability: Hospitals are encouraged to adopt energy-efficient practices, invest in renewable energy sources, and reduce their carbon footprint. NABH promotes water conservation measures, waste management initiatives, and responsible use of medical supplies.
Disaster preparedness and response: Standards mandate robust plans for emergencies like heat waves, floods, and storms. This includes ensuring essential supplies, communication systems, and evacuation protocols are in place.
Staff training and awareness: Healthcare professionals are trained to identify and address climate-related health risks, including early diagnosis and management of heat-related illnesses and vector-borne diseases.
Community engagement: Hospitals are encouraged to collaborate with local communities, public health agencies, and environmental organizations to raise awareness about climate change and its health impacts, promoting preventative measures and building resilience.
Quick Look at the Statistics
According to global climate estimates, India would experience enormous changes, such as the continued melting of glaciers at a rate of 10 to 15 meters per year, which might cause flooding and a shortage of water. A general warming trend is predicted by models, with expected increases of 0.5°C by 2030 and 2-4°C by the end of the century. This will lead to increased levels of air pollution in cities and tropospheric ozone pollution. Apart from this, Around the world, children under five are disproportionately affected by foodborne infections, 600 million people fighting for clean drinking water, and unsafe drinking conditions. These dangers are increased by climate change, which also puts food security at risk and makes waterborne illnesses worse. 2020 saw 770 million people go hungry, serving as a sobering reminder of how temperature rise and erratic weather may upset agricultural cycles and exacerbate food crises, especially in Asia and Africa.
The Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on climatic Change (IPCC) found that, in light of rising global temperatures, adaptation will become more difficult and climatic risks will materialize faster than previously anticipated. It also shows that 3.6 billion people currently reside in regions that are extremely vulnerable to climate change. The health effects are greatest in low-income nations and small island developing states (SIDS), even if their relative contributions to global emissions are negligible. Compared to less sensitive areas, the death rate from extreme weather events during the past ten years was fifteen times higher in vulnerable regions.
Addressing climate change’s health burden is imperative. It is a current issue that requires international collaboration. While achieving NABH accreditation is a commendable step, hospitals must embrace their role as environmental custodians beyond compliance. Continuous efforts towards greening their operations, advocating for climate-friendly policies, and promoting sustainable healthcare practices are crucial.
Climate change is a complex challenge, but by working together, healthcare organizations like NABH and hospitals can play a vital role in mitigating its impact on global health. By promoting environmental sustainability, building resilience, and raising awareness, we can build a healthier future for generations to come. The time to act is now – let us rise to the challenge and ensure that the silent threat of climate change does not become a deafening roar for vulnerable populations worldwide.